Explaining Attitudes toward and Experiences with Social Media among Public Information Officers through Adaptive Structuration Theory

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Social media are today what the printing press was almost 600 years ago--they allow people to spread information at a rate and to an audience not thought possible prior to their inventions. As noted by Sweetser and Weaver-Lariscy (2008) social media are "mediated opportunities for bringing people together encouraging social networking and dialogic communication" (p. 180). According to a February 2012 Pew Institute poll, 66 percent of people are connected to others through social media. When you consider that 2/3 of any community is reachable through a particular medium, its value, as part of a communication arsenal, becomes readily apparent (Brenner, 2012). In Social Habit 2011, a study conducted by Edison Research (2011) and Arbitron, "Approximately 46 million Americans ages 12 and older now check their social media sites and services several times every day."

As traditional newspaper readership and network news viewership continue to dwindle, the social media revolution continues to take off. As of July 2012, more than 300,000 people per day are signing up for the microblogging site Twitter (SiteAnalytics, 2012). Thus, the first question of why should we care if social media are integrated into the fire departments' communication strategies should be self-evident--social media provide the fastest way for the public to obtain life-saving information (Jafarzadeh, 2011). Additionally, the growing number of studies indicates that the public expects to find answers on social media networks first (Fugate, 2011; Gary, 2011; Kingsley, 2009). If fire department PIOs are going to reach the largest audience possible, they need to recognize the value of pre- and post-emergency social media engagement and integrate the technology that will bring people to and through their websites. While many articles extol the importance of having formal social media procedures, there is little research as to why fire departments are lagging behind the adoption of new media technology. Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) offers a framework for understanding how social media are creating a "technology-triggered organizational change" in fire departments (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994, p. 128), albeit a slow change.

The purpose of this study is to understand how fire departments are adopting social media into their communication. Are there similarities and differences between firefighting organizations that do and do not utilize social media for emergency situations, and what are the main obstacles for adoption? How do PIOs perceive social media and how might their attitudes toward new media affect their willingness to adopt social media?

To date, research has examined two aspects of social media use by emergency response organizations. First, they have illustrated how in emergencies organizations use social media to coordinate their efforts (White, Plotnick, Kushma, Hiltz, & Turoff, 2009). Second, they have clarified how those involved in the disaster have used social media to seek and share information as well as provide support for others (Starbird & Palen, 2011; Sutton, Palen, & Shklovski, 2008). Latonero and Shklovski (2011) have called for research that addresses the ways in which organizations use social media to communicate with their communities, but little attention has been given to the rate at which fire departments are integrating social media technologies.

Bottom line: social media have accelerated the community's involvement in managing information during all emergency situations. For example, immediately following the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie premiere of the latest Batman movie, @AuroraPD went from having 300 Twitter followers to over 11,000 in one day ("Virtual Lessons Learned," 2012). When it comes to emergencies, the community is involved.

REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE

Social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest, have become powerful tools for collaboration, sharing, and support of individuals, communities, and the media during emergencies (Dabner, 2012). …