I wanted to highlight points that two friends of this blog, Robin Parker and Jon Abolins, made last week in regard to government’s social media effort during the H1N1 flu outbreak. Both of them noted that social media content suitable for computer users is not necessarily effective for those utilizing a mobile phone, and that emergency communications must be developed with both in mind. In a comment posted to my blog entry, “H1N1 Flu Response Shows Government Needs To Improve Social Media Public Communications For Future Emergencies,” Parker, who manages the Oregon Trail Chapter of the Red Cross’ excellent Cross Blog, said of the governmental H1N1 social media efforts:
They’ve been posting links to PDFs, but many people can’t click the links if they’re reading twitter from their mobile devices (or even some computers). If the CDC were to pull out the main points from those PDFs and tweet them it would be much more useful (and then people could easily retweet the info to correct misconceptions).
In a subsequent post, Jon Abolins concurred:
While we are looking at using social media, we can get locked into thinking of it as primarily *computer* media, forgetting the large part of social media & network that goes on with the mobiles…A key factor may be Gen Y’s preference for mobile phones for texting and other communications. Easier than pulling out the notebook PC, booting up, finding a WiFi connection, etc. The convenience factor points to why we must not forget the mobile phones. Many, if not most, people will have a mobile phone with them more often throughout the day than a computer. A continuous wireless connection on the go is more practical than with a laptop/netbook PC. (Yes, there are cellular Internet services for computers, but they are still too pricey for most people.) In an emergency, many people won’t be anywhere near a PC. But they will have a mobile phone. If there should be an evacuation, it is more likely that the mobile phone will go with the people than a PC.
Abolins added an observation about mobile phones and foreign language capabilities:
Most mobes are limited to the Latin character set. (I cannot view Arabic, Hebrew or Russian texts on my mobe. The characters are rendered as blocks.) If an agency is seeking to communicate in other languages, it may be good to check mobile compatability and, perhaps, have alternate mobile-only versions. Some languages have Latin alphabet scheme for giving a pinyan/pidgin rendition of their texts. I can send you more info separately. The key point is for the agency to survey the non-English using communities and see how they handle mobile comms. E.g., Do they use a pidgin or transliteration scheme. Etc.
With much of government social media, particularly during emergencies, still largely in a developmental stage, the ability to distribute any information is a positive. Yet, going forward there is a need to make both the content and distribution more comprehensive and tailored.
I want to also mention that Abolins, an information technology specialist, lectures frequently on pandemic flu preparedness. He recently made a presentation to the New Jersey chapter of Infragard called, “21st Century Flu Pandemic Insights from 20th Century History”. The pdf can be found here.