Non-profits and legal services organizations have come to recognize the importance of social media and many now have well-developed social media strategies implemented by staff experts. That being said, disaster response brings with it special considerations for every facet of an organization’s operations and social media is no exception.

In order to assist legal services providers, Wilneida Negrón and Leah Margulies of LawHelpNY recently hosted a webinar entitled “Tips on Using Social Media for Disaster Recovery.” Drawing upon lessons from their response to Sandy, Wilneida and Leah outlined how social media can play different, important roles in disaster response and how the role an organization chooses to play inevitably dictates the content they post.

Wilneida and Leah demonstrated how different social media platforms serve different functions in disaster response

Wilneida and Leah began the webinar by reviewing LawHelpNY’s response to Sandy through their blog and Facebook and Twitter accounts. Immediately after Sandy, they began posting resources, contacts, and assistance information for New Yorkers. News outlets, blogs, and others recognized LawHelpNY as a central repository for Sandy legal relief information, and LHNY’s posts enjoyed high viewership and virality. To spread the lessons of their experience, Wilneida and Leah published a toolkit on “Leveraging Social Media and SEO for Online Disaster Outreach.”

Wilneida and Leah used the lessons from their Sandy response to help viewers begin thinking about their social media role in disaster response. Many of the webinar attendees indicated their organizations would likely pursue a passive role, like LawHelpNY did, whereby they would broadcast and disseminate information.

That being said, the webinar also highlighted possibilities for active content and engagement, through proactive data collection and public responses to create situational awareness. Wilneida and Leah featured some of the myriad social networking platforms and guided viewers through creating visualized, aggregated, and personal content that would be useful for a collaborative, planned disaster response effort. They stressed the importance of fact checking, especially after a disaster.

The webinar ended with reminders of best practices in creating post-disaster social media content

Having used their Sandy response to illustrate and explain how organizations could share useful content over social media post-disaster, Wilneida and Leah concluded by helping viewers think about developing a social media strategy. They encouraged organizations to plan ahead by analyzing their networks and pages to evaluate their social media presence, content, and plans. Wilneida and Leah also detailed how organizations can better manage and disseminate the barrage of social media information they receive through listening dashboards and by testing shareable content, and finally time-lined three phases of disaster-related content to share: crisis preparedness, crisis response, and disaster recovery.

I’m excited to apply the lessons from the webinar as I help with disaster legal response efforts. Even with my personal experience with Facebook and Twitter, I am now much more cognizant of how organizational social media strategies must be unique to the disaster context. When the inevitable next disaster strikes, I hope the resources we develop will be easily and quickly shared via effective social media dissemination.