Social Media 16 Aug 2010 11:51 am

Social Media- Big Tool for Crisis Communication?

It seems every day there is a new installation in social media- whether it be a technological advancement, a policy change, or a different way the platforms are being used. In recent years social media has been used frequently as a communication tool during crises. What if, eventually, social media completely takes over traditional news mediums in crisis communication?

In a survey done by American Red Cross, which asked over 1,000 American Adults aged 18 and older questions about crisis communication and social media, 18 percent reported they would use digital media (e-mail, Web sites or social media) to give information out in an emergency if 9-1-1 was busy.
People aren’t just using social media as a fallback during a crisis. They’re using social media to give and receive information about loved ones. In the Red Cross’ survey, nearly half of responders said they would use social media to let loved ones know they were safe.

This doesn’t surprise me, though. I did a research paper last semester about crisis communication and social media. My findings? Currently, people are using social media as a supplement to traditional news sources during crises. The usage of different news mediums during disasters has evolved over time. On the days following 9/11 in 2001, the Internet stopped working for a period of time because Web sites got so many hits. People turned to the television to get news.

During the Virginia Tech Crisis in 2007, students texted and emailed each other to find out if their peers were okay. In a forum online, students put together a list of names of those who were killed before authorities did. Social media allows people to gather information and collaborate quicker than if they weren’t using it.

During earthquakes around the world in the past five years, people have twittered about the effects of the shocks. There are Web sites devoted to these conversations. At the time of China’s 2008 Sichuan earthquake, people were twittering about the earthquake a good three minutes before the US Geological Survey reported it. Is social media simply the easiest way to get information about crises? On a personal level, it might be.

The American Red Cross survey found that 55 percent of responders would mention emergencies or events on their social media channels. The bottom line is that social media is simply one of the fastest way give out information. Of all of the social media channels, the survey reports that 75 percent of responders would use Facebook to post information in the event of an emergency. This is no surprise either.

Using social media during a crisis isn’t just a fast way to get facts, but it is also perceived as effective. Three out of four responders to the survey said they would expect help to arrive within an hour if they posted a request on a social media website. Granted, social media usage during crisis has negative aspects. The Internet can be used as a Petri dish for false information. For the most part, though, it can be a great way to communicate to with other people. As for whether it will overtake traditional news sources during disasters, stay tuned.

Rachel Krasnow

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