After the Boston Marathon bombings, tweets from the city’s Police Department became, in effect, the official word on the search for the perpetrators. Familiarity with social media — built through a campaign led by Cheryl Fiandaca, who until December was the Boston PD’s public information bureau chief — let police officials disseminate and manage information about the situation via social media in a way that gained the trust of residents and the media.
Social media also figured prominently in Boston’s response to a massive February 2013 blizzard. Two days before the snowfall, Lindsay Crudele, community and social technology strategist for the Boston Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), began deploying a social media strategy, including an official hashtag, and started providing information about safety and preparations for the storm. That effort remained a 24/7 operation until the storm passed.
Those two events demonstrate the competency Boston officials, namely Fiandaca and Crudele, have developed in managing crises via social media. It wasn’t an accident. The police department adopted social media early as a vehicle for community policing. The department already had 55,000 Twitter followers prior to the marathon bombings. Three hours after the blasts, that number jumped to 100,000, then 300,000 when the suspects were caught.
“We took a leadership role in letting people know what was happening, which helped reduce the fear,” Fiandaca told Emergency Management magazine.
DoIT established its social media office in May 2012 with Crudele at the helm. She manages 100 social media liaisons across 51 departments. There’s daily interaction between the city’s constituents and many agencies, which makes communication easy during events like the blizzard and the bombings.
“A key tenet of my social media strategy is daily two-way engagement so that we don’t have to work in the midst of an emergency to bring people aboard; they’ve already been a part of the conversation,” Crudele said.
Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.