The Challenge: Understanding a Crisis Situation in Real Time
In December 2021, an online threat of violence suddenly appeared on a popular social media app in the City of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Yet by the time the threat reached school administrators, students were already in attendance for the day, sending the local high school into a soft lockdown—one that meant no one was allowed to enter or leave the building.
As the day unfolded and people began to catch wind of the situation, another situation arose: the school wasn’t releasing much information, which meant that information was quickly becoming misinformation—not unlike in a game of telephone—as rumors began to spread based on what parents were hearing directly from students.
With a crisis on hand, and with separate communications departments for the City and the school system, the City needed to do three things, quickly, and in real time:
- Keep track of the posts and comments that were being disseminated across different social media platforms and pages
- Understand what information gaps existed, and where resident concern was strongest
- Catch and correct any misinformation
The Zencity Solution: Following Resident Sentiment All from One Place
With posts and comments about the situation being made on various social media platforms and amounting to over 5.7K interactions, the City’s biggest challenge was keeping track of the conversation. Adding to the problem was that 68% of the interactions were on a variety of unofficial channels—meaning residents weren’t looking for information from the City or Police Departments’ official communication channels. Turning to Zencity in order to track what was being said, the City was able to see posts in one place, filtered and clustered by topic and subtopic, with real-time updates, rather than having to check each social media platform, group, and page individually.
Having a handle on what was being posted, the City’s next steps were to understand where the biggest gaps in information were. A same-day analysis by Zencity of comments that were being posted revealed that while resident conversation included many discussions on the Second Amendment, there were also a large number of comments—especially from parents of students—expressing frustration about the lack of updates, particularly from the school district.
Lastly, Zencity’s analysis also revealed a growing rumor mill, such as conversations about security flaws in the school lockdown, leading to a need for the City to correct misinformation.
The Impact: A Clear Plan for Updating the Public
Zencity’s analysis not only revealed that the public was hungry for information, it also revealed that residents didn’t know where to find the information that was released. While the Oak Ridge Police Department’s Facebook page was the leading source of conversation, a full 68% of interactions were taking place on social and local media channels that are not owned by the city.
Based on the results of the Zencity report, the City decided to rethink its communication strategy if a similar situation or other major event were to take place again, and to create a central physical location where both residents and the media could find accurate information if needed, as well as to provide more frequent updates—even if they were simply to update that more news was to come—as a lack of information quickly showed to spread rumors.
With a crisis on hand and a need for real-time information, Zencity made tracking everything at once and getting a handle on what was needed both easy and fast.
Senior Communications Specialist, Oak Ridge, TN