The Inflection Point

So, yeah, Post-Tropical Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy. That happened. Mostly sucked. Got lots of lessons learned to share. But let’s start with the helicopter/10,000 foot overview.

For those of you who’ve taken communication theory classes (and those of you who have breathlessly read and memorized all of my posts), you’ll be familiar with the idea of diffusion of innovation.

Diffusion of Innovation S-Curve

See that point right above the words Take Off? Where the slope of the curve changes (and the artist who made this chart had to change Microsoft Paint curve-y line tools)? In our Diffussion of Innovation theory, that’s called the “inflection point.” It’s the point where growth in adoption starts to slow down, usually because most of the people who would adopt that innovation have already done so. The curve levels off when there is no more adoption (like your grandfather and electronica music, it just ain’t happening).

That inflection point? We’re there in terms of social media adoption by emergency response folks. That’s what Sandy taught me. Everyone that’s ahead of the curve, even just barely, has already accepted that social media is a great and growing part of emergency response and they’ve begun integrating it into their work. The rest of the people who could conceivably start using social media (the emergency managers who just wanted to see some return on investment first, or were just waiting for the go-ahead from the executive) will do so now. Those who refuse out-of-hand will be seen as ineffective and out of touch. And since they all report to some executive (read: person who has to stump for votes and answer to the public), I don’t think they’ll be around much longer.

Why, (I imagine) you say(ing)?

Well, there are a few stories of social media’s impact during and after the storm destroyed wide swaths of North Jersey and New York City.

(Yes, that’s 25 different links, most of them from national media sources, specifically about the social media aspect of the storm–all positive to some extent.)

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a trend.

I think, beyond the obvious implications of actually using social media in emergencies, this event has real consequences for us. You know, the folks that have made a certain number of bones being the social media evangelist in their fields (like me!). No longer can we trot out the same old anecdotes about how one day everyone will be using social media in crises.

We’re there.

We now need to concentrate on teaching how to do it right. How to work with the public, as opposed to just broadcasting to them. How to make #SMEM into an everyday conversation, a key, normal, regular part of what we do before an emergency.

18 thoughts on “The Inflection Point

    • Thanks so much for stopping by Bjorn! Honestly, I wish I knew the answer (because if I did, I’d go into business for myself!). In the PR world, the focus is very much on micro-targeting and big data. I think we could stand to learn a bit from that.

  1. Excellent post! At one of the APHA annual meeting sessions, they discussed just that – teaching social media as part of the public health curriculum. The problem is that an overwhelming majority of university public health programs and the professors that teach public health courses don’t know enough (and I’m being kind here) about social media. So, basically no one can teach social media in public health until we get qualified people in the programs to teach it. I believe that public health pros engaged in #SMEM and #HCSM are like Apple and Google, who bank on their innovators/early adopters of fanboys and googlers to drive the majority down their respective purchasing funnel. As more professionals, like yourself, drives public health down that “funnel” of social media use in public health, the schools of public health will soon start approaching you to teach it – at least I hope they do!

    • Raed:

      Thanks for the comment. I figure if we keep pushing the envelope, we’ll get jobs out of it. The Jim-Garrow-100%-Employment-Act, I’m calling it.

      In all seriousness, I missed a great opportunity earlier this year to put together an event for public health students on the in’s and out’s, good’s and bad’s of social media (how it’s useful in PH, and how it can stay with you forever). I’ll have to start that project up again soon.

    • So glad you could stop by, Dave! We live in one of those weird times where there’s TONS of opportunity for success, but just as many pitfalls. Great way to make a name for oneself, like you’ve already done.

      C’mon, get on those rules, standards and interpretations, man!

  2. You are absolutely right of course.

    I do try to eek a living by training EMs and PIOs (though, in fact, we don’t call either of them that in the UK) in #smem.

    There is still a lot of “so what IS twitter then?” though much less than there used to be.

    I try to focus on skills and competence rather than knowledge. Social media isn’t that hard and the important knowledge is already in the heads of the professionals. It’s a case of helping them to understand how this tech changes what they have trained for and to train for that reality.

    People still need rescuing, protecting, and sheltering. Utilities still need restoring. Buildings need rebuilding. It is the behaviour of citizens that has changed, is changing and will continue to change.

    • Ben, you are right on. Ace, some might say.

      We can’t try to teach them acceptance of the new tools, or convince them that the new tools are worthwhile. We have to teach them skills and how best to use those skills–while continuing to do what they’re already so good at.

      Thanks again, mate!

  3. There was some interesting fallout in Bucks. There were many residents of Warwick Twp. who were unhappy with the lack of dissemination of information by the township, mostly compared to Doylestown Borough, where officials there had a steady stream of information flowing throughout the storm and recovery. There has been a groundswell of criticism about Doylestown Township’s lack of information as well, and I think more will come of that.

    • Wow! I didn’t know those complaints were happening! But it makes complete sense. Once people see how other agencies/counties/governments have embraced social media and openness and accountability, they’ll demand it for their own. Like I said, now all of the people who needed a push to believe in social media’s utility are coming onboard. Well, that or they’ll get voted out!

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Glad to have someone local see the blog!

  4. Hey Jim – Good stuff, Pointed here by a whole bunch of Tweets and such, you’ve arrived! Other phenomena are coming together to form this perfect storm, one of which is public private collaboration and whole community – progress perhaps akin to the chart above.

    One tentacle of each movement helping to drive exponential growth is trustworthy vendors with good ideas inside the circle of collaboration, innovation and content.
    Just my two cents – that will be a dollar ; – )
    -Michael

    • Michael:

      I don’t think you know how right you are. Implicit in this acceleration towards social media and openness is well, for lack of a better term, knocking government communicators out of their ivory towers. We can longer be above the public, the media, or the private sector. We are part of a community that has, HAS, to work together to succeed.

      We can no longer be stiff, grim, talking heads that speak in jargon. We have to embrace the expertise, enthusiasm and partnerships that are out there. Failure to do less (by issuing staid press releases, not speaking in plain language, ignoring community-wide accepted practices), is tantamount to failure.

      Thanks, bud!

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