Today, Social Media (SM) informs about emergencies, scandals, and controversial events before the traditional media. The news media has become a second source that tries to improve the signal to noise ratio.
Using SM as an early warning system isn’t a new idea, but few organisations actually do it because they never get around to creating an organised process for this function.
How to Create a SM Early Warning System
I start the process by first identifying the subject matter that I need in my early warning system and what informational role it will play. This includes identifying who will receive its output and who must act upon its output.
Carefully plan how you will communicate with the rest of your organisation. This needs to include an emergency distribution list with alternative distribution methods if normal communication methods start to break down.
The people who must act upon your information must trust that you will give them timely and accurate information. They must also know what you won’t provide. Gaining ths trust and understanding will take time and good old-fashioned salesmanship.
Next, I start identifying sources that provide reliable information that I then store, aggregate, and evaluate. As these sources become more trusted, I begin grouping them by topic, special knowledge, geography, and other factors. I then start asking them for more contacts that are equally reliable. To manage my contacts or sources, I build Twitter Lists, Facebook Interest Lists, Google Plus Circles, and use other similar list tools.
I contact my sources by email, Skype, and other means to build a relationship based upon trust and common interests. I note their strengths, weaknesses, skills, contacts, biases, and other relevant characteristics. It is important for me to treat all my contacts with respect and to view them as colleagues, rather than people to order about. I also act as a source to all my contacts as this isn`t a one-way street. I make it clear that I am looking for help rather than someone circulating rumors and misinformation. I do this by letting my contacts know what I do and do not know while steering clear of all inflammatory aspects of the topic as SM tends to amplify these without adding factual data.
I have seen many attempts to use SM for this fail once they realise that for this to work, it must be a collaborative effort. They don`t want to give as much as they receive as that requires too much effort, trust, and organisation.
To organise a SM early warning system you need to start a decision tree that allows you to go through the research, evaluation, and verification process in a logical and orderly manner without missing any steps. Design the process to identify the original content source or creator, verify that it represents events truthfully, and that the context of the content is not intended to mislead the viewer.
Use your favourite flow-chart software to make a decision tree suitable for the type of content and SM that you typically handle. Keep it simple. Start with only yes/no decisions. Each person on the team should add to the decision tree for their tasks as they learn new sources and methods.
Divide the decision tree into three components. First, identify the original poster or creator of the content. Second, investigate the source or creator of the content to help determine his reliability, biases, and online history. Third, investigate the content itself for defects that indicate that it is a fake, an intentional hoax, or some form of propaganda.
Over time, the decision tree and its supporting documentation will make your team seem super-human in its ability to wade through large volumes of complex material to expose fakers and reveal the true story.