Social media tips: Recap of the August quarterly meeting (Part 1 – Facebook groups)

By Joe Dougherty, PIO
Utah Division of Emergency Management

When it comes to social media, there are two platforms that are essential: Twitter and Facebook. Do both well, and you establish your organization as a credible source of information with those who are consuming your content digitally.

Zach Whitney from UDOT discusses Facebook groups for government pages.

During our quarterly training luncheon in Park City on August 15, Zach Whitney from UDOT (@zachwhitneynews) and I (@PIO_Joe) shared some tips about using those two platforms more effectively to reach people who care about your message and to filter out the noise.

Zach’s presentation information is here and mine is in the next post, Part 2 – Maximizing Your Twitter Game.

Facebook Groups for Government Agencies

If you are going to do social media, and among the platforms you are using is Facebook, then Zach Whitney says that it’s important that you give people information that they actually want.

Facebook’s recent emphasis on giving users the chance to make more meaningful connections brought about the ability for pages to create and join community pages.

Zach’s slides are here, and you can see his takeaways below.

Join community groups

Let’s take it for a spin. Find a group you would like to join as a page. In this case, I am requesting to join a group called Utah Emergency Preparedness. Then, I select that I want to join as my page for the Utah Division of Emergency Management instead of as myself.

Group administrators have the ability in their group settings to decide whether to allow pages to join or not. I tried joining a Herriman emergency preparedness group, but it would only allow me to join from my profile.

There are various groups you could consider joining as your page.

  • Community 411/rumor groups (They go by different names in each county.)
  • County “yard sale” groups
  • Groups organized by topic (such as emergency preparedness)

Here are examples of groups UDOT has joined

a screen shot of the facebook groups U-DOT has created, including the U.S. 89 Farmington to interstate 84 project and an environmental study for state route 73

Create your own group

UDOT has created community groups (make sure you’re logged into Facebook to use that link) for specific construction projects and environmental studies and statements.

Here’s how you do it:

This is NOT an actual group we’re creating. This is just for demonstration purposes today. But who knows? Someday, we could create this group.

As a page manager, go to your page and click groups on the left-hand side.
Click “create group.” Name it, select administrators and a privacy setting and begin posting. Make sure to invite some people to your group. And spend some time in the various group settings.

Remember, the goal is engagement. How can you help foster conversations among group members so they have meaningful interactions? What will be most valuable to them?

This is what UDOT knows about its followers in the group. They want information when it’s relevant to them. Zach said they tried having some fun with some posts, but people were more interested in the relevant information. Their point? Just get us the information we came here to get.

This chart displays survey results from the question "how often would you like to see U-DOT post in the group: The lowest recorded responses were a few times a week, daily and monthly. The highest responses were for once a week and whenever there is relevant information

Join some groups

If you haven’t joined any groups, either as a person or a page, consider searching for something you are passionate about in Facebook’s search bar and then refine your search by groups.

If you haven’t yet, consider joining the Utah PIO Association on Facebook. Come in, ask a question, and watch the PIOs come up with responses.

Don’t forget email

If you’re doing social media, do it the best you can. Though it’s tempting to put all of our eggs in the basket of social media, it can’t be the only way we reach people. Check out these stats from UDOT’s survey to its stakeholders.

A well-written, well-timed email will still do wonders to get people the information they want.

This pie chart shows that 46 percent of U-DOT's stakeholders prefer to receive information via email. compared to 22 percent who prefer social media, 16 percent in open houses, 9 percent with mailed flyers and 5 percent through traditional media.

Want to see part 2 of our recap of the quarterly meeting? My info about Twitter is here.

Zach Whitney is a digital communications specialist for the Utah Department of Transportation.

Joe Dougherty is the public information officer for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

What I Learned at Advanced PIO

The full Advanced PIO class of April 28-May 4, 2019. Lisa Miller photo
By Lisa Miller
Traveler information manager

If you haven’t already attended the FEMA Advanced Public Information Officer (PIO) course… do it. The training, held at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is well worth the effort.

This five-day course refreshes the fundamentals that every PIO should have in their toolbox and covers a wealth of advanced information that will improve your perspective and reach as a PIO. Instructions for how to apply are at the end of this post.

Here’s a snapshot of what I learned:


The attendees of this class speak your language. They have had similar situations. There is a wealth of knowledge to transfer just by having lunch and dinner together. This class had nearly 50 participants from all over the nation representing fire, police, National Guard, FEMA and public agencies. We’re all keeping in touch via a Facebook page specifically for our class.

The state JIC during the exercise portion of the class. Lisa Miller photo.

Exercises are critically important

We already know this, but finding time can be difficult. The class schedule blocked 1½ days for a functional exercise focused on Joint Information Center (JIC) coordination. There was a state JIC for the first time in the class as well as local JICs for each fictitious municipality. The injects were phenomenal and encouraged us to build on our institutional knowledge as well as struggle a bit with the things that were less familiar to us.

Leave your ego at the door

For those of you who have been to the training, “don’t be Pam.” Working in a JIC can be a stressful environment without adding inflated egos to the dynamic.

Everyone has the same goal… get the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decisions.

Overall emergency goals of protecting life and preserving property are much better facilitated when everyone checks their ego at the door.

PIOs from around the nation attend the course. It’s a great chance to learn. Lisa Miller photo

There are no bad ideas

During the first day or so of the class, everyone is still in the mode of familiarizing themselves with their classmates. Nobody wants to be the person who brings up an idea that elicits an eye roll! The instructors of the training quickly established the idea that there are no bad ideas. We were all learning and growing together and everyone was encouraged to participate.

Don’t only rely on social media

We are so engrained in social media as a way to reach our constituents. However, in an emergency situation, it’s not the only channel that needs attention. One of the presentations at the Utah PIO Association conference last year stressed this. Wildfires, rural populations, different languages and rapidly changing information can cause confusion and panic among citizens. During times of non-emergency, hone your skills on how to communicate with your audiences through all channels so you’re ready to go when an emergency strikes.

Write for a lower reading level

Every agency is full of acronyms that sometimes do not translate well outside of the agency. Remember that your audience may have language barriers or may read at a lower grade level. According to the Utah Department of Health, nearly 8% of adults in Utah operate at below a high school level. Nationally, this number is around 12%.

PIOs love karaoke

You haven’t truly lived until you’ve heard someone from the St. Louis Division of Water Quality sing Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” at karaoke night. #nailedit

Have you attended APIO 0388? What were your thoughts and takeaways?

Lisa Miller
APIO Graduate
April 28-May 4, 2019

Editor’s note:

How to apply for Advanced PIO

The course prerequisites list is lengthy and the application process can take quite a while. Classes fill up quickly so plan ahead.

Course description and prerequisites
Download the application form here
When all prerequisites are complete, fill out and sign the application, have your boss sign in the appropriate place and then send your course certificates and application to Kris Repp at She is the State Training Officer and forwards your application to FEMA.

When you need digital/social media support

UtahVOST1 square-02

Today, Cheryl Bledsoe (, from Virtual EMA one of the pioneers of the VOST movement, held a webinar to discuss the Virtual Operations Support Team and how the team works.

In 2010, emergency managers were talking about how to harness the power of social media. They came up with the concept of the VOST to use social media “trusted agents” in diverse locations to help incident leaders have better information and complete web-based missions for emergency response.

As we know, social media helps you be more dynamic, listen to the public, share information and help incident command get intelligence.

Some web-based teams you may have heard of include Humanity Road or the American Red Cross’s digital engagement teams. But VOST is different.

The goal: Provide a snapshot of what is happening on social media as a member of the EOC or incident command. VOSTs can look for rumors and misinformation, threats and copycats, unsolicited volunteers, etc.

They curate and bring that information together and prepare narrative listening reports, filtering out the noise and clutter of social media.

Missions can be long (during a wildfire) or short.

Case study: Umpqua Community College shooting, October 2015

  • 10-member VOST, but only used 2-3 people per day. Mission was active for 17 days.
  • Evaluated spontaneous volunteers and fundraisers.
  • Presidential visit

VOST training available

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Where we would like to go in Utah:

  • Conduct training: Virtual EMA does training on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Build our team to be capable identifying rumors and misinformation.
  • Become skilled at curating social media messages and images.
  • Understand and become proficient at the tools that are available.
  • PIOs should consider becoming VOST team members.

If you would like to be part of UtahVOST1, contact Joe Dougherty,

Joe Dougherty, @PIO_Joe