Developing a Social Media Communications Plan

Developing a social media plan as part of your organization’s incident management communication plan allows direct engagement with the public, allowing emergency managers a method to bypass the traditional unidirectional pathway of information from the media to the public. Effective use of social media can improve the efficiency of information dispersal and prevent potential misrepresentation of information due to the information being posted directly from the source but should be well thought out before an emergency or incident.

While the use of social media as a communication tool during incident management is increasing, social media was not “specifically designed to support emergency response” and crisis communication; thus, there are several potential challenges to consider prior to using social media as an incident communications tool. Challenges associated with the use of social media include messages containing critical information getting lost in the multitude of social media messages, the spread of false information, conflicting messaging from stakeholders, and the communication method’s reliance on cell service and internet access.

To assist in planning the use of social media in an emergency incident frameworks and guidelines have been developed by a number of organizations. Two such tools are the Social Media Emergency Management (SMEM) Guidance Tool, and the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) framework.

Social Media Emergency Management Guidance Tool Fact Sheet

The SMEM Guidance Tool is a free, online tool that provides users with a simple, step-by-step line of questioning to create plans to improve their organization’s SMEM operations. The SMEM Guidance Tool is automated, web-accessible, and mobile to enhance usability for practitioners who often have limited time to dedicate to SMEM planning and operations efforts.

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) Framework

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the CERC framework and accompanying manual to aid in an organization’s communication of crisis-related information to the public during public health emergencies. The CERC framework merges risk and crisis communication concepts to foster effective messaging during a crisis. Because of the Framework’s reliance on electrical power and cellphone towers to relay disaster-related messages to the community, it is crucial that the framework is used in conjunction with primary communication methods such as radios and emergency alert systems.


Below are some additional questions to consider when developing a social media communication plan for your healthcare organization. These questions are not exhaustive; instead, they are intended to initiate and facilitate a conversation around necessary aspects of a social media plan.  The Additional Resources section provides links to tools and articles related to a social media communications plan.

-Who manages your social media platforms?

  • Does your organization have an assigned group or staff member that manages social media?  Do many groups manage different platforms?
  • Has your organization surveyed social media sites to be aware of which platforms your organization appears on?
  • Is someone assigned to monitor social media during an incident? It is important that false or incorrect information is monitored and responded to in a timely fashion so rumors can be quickly dismissed and accurate information is presented to the public.

-Does your organization have a social media communication plan? 

  • Who is responsible for your organization’s social media sites?   While Marketing may manage the site, would they manage the information in an emergency or disaster?
  • Is there a defined communications plan that allows Incident Command to communicate with the social media manager? 
  • Who will approve the social media messaging in an emergency?
  • Does the social media team participate in emergency drills?
  • Is there a plan to have a team to manage social media in an incident?  In an emergency, a single marketing staff member or Public Information Officer may be overwhelmed with monitoring and responding to a flood of social media messages.

-What social media platforms does your organization maintain an active presence on?

  • When you have determined which platforms your organization is using you will need to determine if the platform is appropriate for providing emergency management information.  Instagram may not reach the audience you need in an emergency, but Facebook’s Local Alerts tool may be perfect.

Additional Resources

Facebook’s Crisis Response Tool provides two key features that may be of interest to healthcare Emergency Managers.  “Local Alerts” allow a healthcare organization’s social media team to post alerts about an emergency incident.  “Safety Check” provides a tool for staff to mark themselves as safe and to check the status of loved ones in a disaster.  Learn more about Facebook’s Crisis Response Tools. 


Emergency Communication in the Age of Social Media Six tips for using social media for disaster communications

An excellent article about how Emergency Management must engage on social media in a disaster and key tips about the issues that may be encountered during a disaster.

EMS1.Com website,  By Gary Sparger Feb 3, 2020


Facebook “Today In” local information alerting tool overview