Does social media monitoring belong in Planning or PIO?

Opinions differ even among those who know how important it is

In a previous post on making suggestions for updating NIMS, I suggested that social media monitoring should go into the ICS structure rather than be considered a part of the JIC or PIO responsibilities. This prompted some thoughtful responses from readers of this blog--I encourage you to read them at the bottom of that post.

I wanted to respond in particular to the comments of Ed McDonough who raises some very important objections to my suggestion. Here is the crux of his concerns:

If we move social media monitoring to planning, then should we also move tradition media monitoring to plans? How about the monitoring of public query lines? Furthermore, what sense would it make to move the monitoring of social media away from the same group of people that are pushing out the social media messaging?

My initial response to those questions was, of course not. We wouldn't move traditional media monitoring to Planning, nor inquiry management. Very clearly the JIC and PIO need to be monitoring social media for communication purposes. So my suggestion of putting it in Planning either creates a duplication of effort--monitoring in Planning and the JIC--or it takes the valuable information gained one step away from either of these functions. Neither one is a good solution.

I am dealing with this issue right now in a couple of situations where the planning process is including where this kind of monitoring should go. I have advocated it to be included as part of the ICS structure for these reasons:

1. Communications has traditionally been quite clearly separated from planning and Command. The operational types tend to think they do all the planning and the response work and the communications job is to keep the media out of their way and give the media and the world the facts--minimal is best.

2. Social media monitoring--and indeed media and items emerging from public or media inquiries--are increasingly essential to response decision-making. Let me put it another way: response leaders will most likely fail in their job of making best decisions if they do not take into account the information available from outside the response. It's not just about communications--it's about operational decisions. In this, I know Ed agrees with me.

So at heart my problem is that the traditionally-minded operational types will not the info they get from social media seriously if it comes to them through the PIO. That is a general statement because ultimately it depends on the relationship the PIO and other comms leaders have with the operational types including Command. It also depends on the experience of those in charge. But, in general, that's where the problem lies.

I think this problem is significant enough (would love to hear from you!) that it cannot be solved by simply saying, "Well, they'll just have to learn." It seems much quicker to get to where we need to get to if the info comes to Command via Planning. So, Ed, I have a suggested compromise.

1. I do believe that a new officer position in ICS needs to be created: Intelligence Officer.

2. Assuming that doesn't happen, the Sit Stat unit will continue to serve as the primary information gathering function for the response and Planning the means by which Command gets operational information on which to make planning decisions. 

3. A PIO/JIC team member needs to sit in the Sit Stat or Planning unit. The plans I developed always had that but they were there to gather info for the PIO and JIC. Now, they need to have two duties: to provide that important operational information coming from the full monitoring operation, and to gather response and event information.

4. Technology which allows for information sharing between the units is a key part of making this work. 

So, I buy Ed's arguments and believe that the external world monitoring functions (media, social media, public and media queries, community meetings, etc.) belongs in the JIC and with the PIO. But that the valuable information gathered that affects operations needs a very fast, very easy, very obstacle free pathway from the JIC to Command--most likely through Planning.

It occurs to me (and based on a conversation with my good friend and colleague Patrice Cloutier this morning) that one critical element of making this work is the analytics and reporting of monitoring content. In other words, if you don't have the people who can separate the signal from the noise in a way that Command can act on, it won't work no matter how much good social media monitoring you do. Technology is part of this, but it takes good, in-depth response management experience, a good sense for the personality and priorities of Command, great judgment is separating the wheat from the chaff, and a very strong ability in synthesizing a lot of data into actionable intelligence and recommendations. That's asking a lot. I'm afraid the emerging practice is to find a young person in the office, give them a tablet and tell them, hey, you know all this social media stuff, you do our monitoring for us. Not so sure about that.

What do you think, Ed?