Was Social Media Underused During the Gatlinburg Wildfire Events?
A recent article written by the Knoxville News Sentinel makes accusations that the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge made no use of social media to warn residents and visitors of the Gatlinburg wildfires. I wanted to chime in and complete this story because most people are unaware of this and just assume that social media is a great way, in today's time, to communicate with people. First, I will preface by saying that it may not have hurt anything to have posted on social media as a city to the community. But is it really that important they did or did not post to social media? NO! Here are a few reasons why:
To start, on average, a Facebook page will only reach 2.6% of its audience. Let’s say, for example, the Pigeon Forge Fire Department had posted about the fires to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pigeonforgefiredept/). As of today, December 27, 2016, they have 9,959 likes. On average, they would only reach 258 people when they post. Remember, this is only reach and does not mean people would read it or take notice. Another thing to consider is, in cases like this, the citizens have better insight on what is going on. Yes, while you could say social media was underused by the cities, it was for certain used at scale by citizens who had the best insights during this extremely fast-moving, emergency situation. In addition to that, personal Facebook pages have more reach than business pages, so when citizens post, they share much more up-to-date information and, on average, they have more reach on social media.
A couple more things to consider:
1. The more people post, the less reach everyone gets to a specific audience.
2. Facebook EdgeRank would be lower for a city statistically than a page that posts value-added content more frequently. I pulled some data on a few cities and their engagement. The City of Knoxville (https://www.facebook.com/CityofKnoxville/), for example, in the past 28 days, has had less than 1% engagement (.37%). If the entire estimated population of Gatlinburg (4,097 people) liked the City of Gatlinburg’s page, then an estimated 151 people would have possibly seen the post.
Should cities post to Facebook? Of course! It is free and it would not hurt. Would it have had a significant impact or change in the recent wildfire events? NO! Another thing to consider is that city officials were out in the field working the event, like firefighters and other emergency personnel. They were really doing what they should be doing, not worrying about posting on Facebook. Also, having someone post delayed or misinformation could result in a negative impact. I know of one case where a family was 4-6 minutes from not making it out due to misinformation on Facebook posts in the area. The posts stated that fires were not close to them when, in fact, the fires had already made it to their back yard. These events happened so quickly that it was very easy to have misinformation posted. Yes, before you say it - what about Twitter, Justin? Yes, I agree, but, on average, Twitter has an even lower reach than Facebook, so it’s not even really worth talking about.
My personal opinion: Government, like everything else in life, has its good and bad. I think we look to them for too much most of the time. We beat them up for getting in our business and, when we need them, we want them in our business and to take care of us in every way. They are humans, just like us, and, in some cases, they are und-budgeted and under-resourced. I am not a huge political person, but I have worked with state and local governments. Just like everything else, the mass majority are great people who care and they are doing the best they can with what they have. We complain when they do things and when they don't. I look to myself to know what is going on, not to them. I always say “if you love the government or hate them, they are a big ship with a tiny rudder and this is a good thing.” They move slow and when dealing with the masses, you must move slow to have the best interest of the citizens, in many cases. We want them to move fast on some things and slow on others. If they would have posted quickly, they would not have reached many people at all and then we would have complained about that which is something they have no control over. They did not post at all and now people complain about that. If they posted often, some would have said to get off social and help people. The list goes on. At the end of the day, half will love what they do and half will hate it. The media makes posts like this to get people stirred up and get clicks to a page so you will click on ads - so they can make payroll, in most cases. :)
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