When Florida State University (FSU) and Auburn University (AU) met on January 6th for the BCS National Championship Game, it wasn’t just the football teams that went to battle. For several weeks, the emergency management offices at both universities had been engaged in a fierce competition on another field – social media.
Created in the competitive spirit of the BCS Championship Game, the BCS Social Media in Emergency Management (#SMEM) Challenge between FSU and AU was launched on December 16, 2013. The competition was designed to engage students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community, in the universities’ emergency management programs, with the underlying goal of promoting the culture of preparedness and safety on both campuses. For three weeks, the programs competed in 11 different categories based on factors such as the overall increase in Twitter followers and Facebook likes, number of engagements on Twitter and Facebook, and submissions and votes in a photo contest, all tracked on a daily leader board.
“The concept of a SMEM competition actually began back in October between myself and Scott Burnotes, the Emergency Management Director at the University of Miami,” said Dave Bujak, the Emergency Management Coordinator at FSU. “We just didn’t have enough time to put it together for our November annual rivalry matchup. When Auburn popped into the BCS National Championship with us, I contacted Susan McCallister (AU’s Associate Director for Public Safety Information and Education), and we spent a week finalizing the details.”
Social media has become an important tool for both government and private sector organizations to communicate with key stakeholders before, during and after emergencies. Through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, information about emergencies, and how to prepare for them, can be quickly and effectively communicated to a large audience. The use of social media also helps create a dialogue between emergency managers and those directly affected by a crisis or disaster, providing greater insight into various aspects of preparing for and responding to emergency situations.
When the SMEM competition began, AU’s emergency management office had just started its social media outreach program. Through the challenge, the university’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Facebook page experienced a 2,004 percent growth in ‘likes’ in only three weeks, helping the school establish a social media audience that rivals several institutions with long-standing SMEM programs.
“This has been a great way for us to launch our new non-emergency social media sites,” said AU’s Susan McCallister. “I highly recommend this type of friendly competition to others – it’s a great way to get your campus engaged.”
The challenge also highlighted the universities’ partnerships with local, city, and state emergency management organizations, and emphasized the important role the local community plays in their emergency preparedness efforts. According to Bujak, “the campaign has given us the opportunity to thank and recognize our community partners who work with us to keep the FSU community safe.”
Although FSU emerged victorious by a very slim margin when the final results were tallied, both institutions agree that the program has gone a long way in promoting the importance of emergency preparedness, and hope that the challenge serves as an inspiration to other campuses. “Our #KeepFSUSafe or #KeepAUSafe social media posts were viewed over 2.7 million times by our respective audiences,” notes Bujak. “If nothing else, that exposure alone has made all of this worthwhile.”
- FEMA provides emergency preparedness resources for colleges and universities through its Campus Ready program.
- Training course on social media in emergency management, through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.
- Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education.
- Follow Auburn University’s Emergency Management program on Twitter and Facebook.
- Follow Florida State University’s Emergency Management program on Twitter and Facebook.