This report is a compilation of research conducted by Laurie Boettcher. Outside being a social media professional, speaker, and trainer, I am a graduate student at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. In pursuit of a Master of Communication, this has been an opportunity to research an area I am passionate about. The study was done under the tutelage of Dr. James Ettema, professor of Contemporary Media in Government, Business, and Society.
I became interested in the topic of social media in crisis communication while I was the Communication Manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Division of Transportation Structure Development’s Northwest Region. On August 7, 2007, the I-35W Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Being in such close proximity and governing St. Croix County, which borders Minnesota, my office fielded media calls concerning bridge integrity, safety, inspection schedules, and more. As a communications professional, I could not help but notice that within minutes of the collapse, cell phone towers were jammed. People were unable to get word to their families and friends of their safety or otherwise. Instead, they were turning to social media – MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter was the new kid on the block. It was the first time I experienced people using social media tools for anything other than social. It was the first time I saw the potential power of social media for my profession. This fascinated me.
The research and this concluding report examine how the Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) of the Midwest states are using social media tools in their crisis communications.