Believe it or not, here, in this week that Instagram was bought by Facebook for a mere $1 billion, I’ve been struggling with the issue of what to write about. Partly this is because, as it is now several days after the acquisition, it has been covered to death. I’ve nothing to add.
So, as I was mulling what to write about early this afternoon, I procrastinated by posting a comment on my local Patch site about a story discussing what platforms local authorities should use to give residents emergency notifications.
Unfortunately, this topic has come to the fore because I live in a town where someone has been robbing commuters walking home from the train station at gunpoint. To me, the choice of a proper platform for emergencies seems yet another example of how hard it is for civilians to the digital communications business to understand it.
And, voila, a column was born!
According to the Patch story, local officials are looking into options like a service called Nixle (which appears to be used by a lot of government agencies -- and can send texts), Constant Contact, and Facebook. Apparently, some of the concern about a better notification system surfaced after residents said that the current system – which simply asks interested parties to add their email addresses to a list -- didn’t alert them fast enough when the third in our local string of armed commuter robberies happened last month.
I received the email at 3:02 p.m. the day after the robbery occurred, which was at 10:55 p.m. the previous night. I have no information on when local authorities were informed of the incident, or when the notification process began, but something seemed wrong about the email lag. We live in a small town, and apparently 500 people are on the mailing list, so could the 14-hour lag time really be the fault of the platform? Aren’t most email systems instantaneous? Or is it possible that the residents who complained were the same people for whom email is not the communications platform of choice?
I don’t know; but my gut tells me that what our little dorf needs to do is put out communications where people already are -- and, it needs to use platforms, not a single platform. Some people are much more likely to get their communications via text, some through email, and some through Facebook. The possible addition of Facebook to the list of channels is obvious to me, but not necessarily to them. If you truly want news to spread fast, do it on a platform that is viral by nature. At this time, official news comes through Facebook only when private citizens who belong to local Facebook groups care to cut and paste the text of an official email. While our municipality mulls setting up its own page, it should be posting alerts in already-existing local Facebook groups.
You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned Twitter. While a Twitter feed would be painless to set up, it wouldn’t be particularly useful, since very few people here use it.
But, that leads me to another head-scratcher in watching this local platform debate unfold. With the exception of Facebook, all of the platforms officials are examining require a monthly fee. Local budget constraints being what they are, and excellent, free online services being what they are, should any actual money have to be spent to improve communications? I’m skeptical.
Twitter is a case in point. It may not be the platform of choice where I live, but it’s an example of a platform in which anyone, with a few minutes’ worth of experience, could send out a tweet linking to an official notification, for free! This doesn’t require sophisticated knowledge or any funding.
Which may, in fact, be my point with this week’s column rant. As we get into some pretty high-level discussion here at Social Media Insider about the state of social media, let’s not forget that as obvious as we may find what I’ve said here to be, it’s not so obvious to much of the rest of the world.
More importantly, I can’t wait until we catch this guy.