When a big story breaks, we turn to social media for the latest updates. Whether it's via Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, we use it to track what's going on and to share the latest details with friends.
But good social media is about being more than reactive, it's about being proactive. And knowing how to use it in times of crisis is a valuable skill.
Ask yourself: If I was in a dangerous situation where I had to alert someone of my whereabouts and status, can I effectively do that with social media? Do I know how to find the most up-to-date and accurate information in a sea of tweets and status updates? Don't just assume you can, make sure you have a plan.
Start with these tips:
•When you were young, you learned to dial 911. Now, you should also follow the social media accounts of the local authorities, whether police or fire or both. During the marathon bombings in Boston this week, police and fire Twitter feeds sent out verified information. Also, be careful not to share information that you can't verify; you don't want to add to the stream of rumors.
•Create an online meeting place for friends and family. Decide ahead of time where that will be, and consider multiple spots in case one platform is down. For example, decide now that you'll tweet and then post on Facebook so people immediately know where to look first. Make sure your friends know your Twitter handle and are connected to you on Facebook. Check your privacy settings to ensure everyone has access to what you are posting.
•Although it's not technically social media, there's no excuse not to have text messaging: There are people in my family who do not text or even know where to find texts. In 2013, you should have it. It's always going to be quicker to send a text than it is to dial a number. Have a code word or something you agree on to make it easier to understand what's being communicated. In a pinch, Facebook Messenger can serve as a good alternative to standard SMS.
•Photos can be helpful: If you need to show someone where you are, Instagram can be your friend. People can learn a lot about the scene of an accident or disaster through a photo. Some of the first photos of the carnage at the marathon were found on Instagram.
•Help tweet emergency numbers and requests for help from verified sources: Check ahead of time for the local chapter of the Red Cross or the mayor's office or emergency management department. If someone from one of these accounts asks for help getting a message to someone, do what you can to help. We saw a lot of this not only after Boston but also after Hurricane Sandy.
•Get to know Google Person Finder, which helps people reconnect with friends and loved ones in the aftermath of natural and humanitarian disasters. Google set up one soon after the marathon bombing.
Above all, don't panic. Create a plan and stick to it.
What questions do you have about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg or @amyguth. We might select yours for use in a future column.