I recently provided real-time analysis for an international, “Boston Qualifier,” marathon. During the build-up to the race, the chief content officer hired for the marathon decided to never show-up to the planning meetings, or schedule follow-up meetings with my team. As we closed in on the date of the big day, my team conducted the necessary research, built the search strings, and function tested our tools. We were ready to do our thing, and hoped the content guy was ready to do his.

Three hours into the event one of my team members called me over and showed me a tweet. It was from a woman seeking information on her daughter who was registered in the race. Apparently the daughter was in bad shape somewhere along the course and needed help. As we looked for more information on mom, she tweeted three more times, updating the last known locations of her daughter. In each tweet she mentioned the marathon main Twitter page and seemed to be talking directly to them. All she got back was silence.

The chief content officer for the marathon was seated no less than 20 feet from us, complete with his designer coffee, super-slick smartphone, and impressive gun-metal gray laptop. I walked over to him and asked if he’d seen the tweets. He shook his head and switch from the game he was playing to the Twitter app on his phone. He’d missed 12 messages from marathon runners; four of which came from our distraught mother. I told him there was a “runner down” somewhere on the course and we needed to find her. The look on his face was classic; he was as lost and scared as our imperiled runner.

This is all too common an occurance now. I’ve been running “real-time” data analytic teams for just about eight years, and in that time I’ve seen numerous content officers, marketing gurus, and casual tweeters melt under the pressure. I don’t blame them, in fact I really do feel sorry for a person who is well-trained, and well paid to push information suddenly be expected to pull, analyze, and disposition in-bound traffic. Anything more than, “Hey, @ChrisChickHut I waited 15 minutes for my country fries!” and content pushers lose their biscuits. The new world of social media however mandates they, or someone with the requisite training, be on the other end of the tweet when someone tweets, “@ChrisChickHut there is robbery happening RN!”

There are two ways of dealing with this problem; train the team, or outsource. Under normal circumstances adding additional training is probably the easiest and least expensive route. Most content pushers can be given the basics in triage and disposition in four to five hours. A good training group will include information and communication plans so the content never gets lost. Actually doing the job of real-time data extraction and analysis takes practice, and a high stress tolerance so I would not throw a newly trained person into the mix too soon. Over time however they will acquire the right mindset and be able to perform their “old” job of content management while at the same time handling a reasonable amount of in-bound traffic.

Now, outsourcing. This is a sticky topic for some in the safety/security realm because they generally don’t like to share critical information about their events or sites. The truth is however, a well-trained team can conduct real-time support with a high degree of efficacy and efficiency all while protecting the client’s best interest and keeping the patrons safe. It can be pricey, so make sure the group you choose has a solid information management plan, scheduled check-ins, a functioning communication plan, and redundant extraction systems. Don’t get hoodwinked by a “former Special Agent So-and-so” who only supervised a fusion center but never actually did the job.

Back to our missing runner. My analyst was able to locate the general area where she last checked-in using her marathon app. We got her name and photograph and sent it to paramedics on the course. A few minutes later we got work she was located and being transported to the medical tent near the finish line. This is how it should be done!