According to a poll conducted by Pew Research Centre (2013), more than half of the young Americans who participated (49%) said they kept themselves abreast with current affairs by reading news on social networking sites. Additionally, about a quarter of the Americans received information about the Boston explosion via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Evidently, social media when used correctly, can be a powerful tool to spread accurate information and aid in crisis management.
The power of social media – Boston Marathon
On 15th April 2013 at approximately 1449hrs, two bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon. Immediately after, the public was informed about the incident via the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) social media. The marathon participants and onlookers also shared photos and live updates on the situation via social media, also informing their friends and families on their safety and whereabouts. Results published by a Twitter analytics company said that by 1610hrs, there were close to 300,000 tweets related to the Boston explosions and 700,000 on the disrupted Boston marathon.
To track the marathon participants or onlookers who were currently missing, Google Person Finder, an open source web application serving as a registry and platform for survivors, family, and victims of natural disasters to post and search for information about each other, was activated. This near real-time registry made it easier to keep track of the situation, survivors and wounded. The FBI and BPD also maintained regular Twitter updates to provide the public with information on the situation. Misinformation and fake news were quickly dispelled as the BPD social media became the main source of truth. The BPD also took to social media to release images of two suspects related to the explosion and solicited the public’s help to identify them.
The power of social media – Hurricane Isaac
When Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012, the local and state emergency agencies used various official social media accounts to provide New Orleanians with real-time updates on the situation, such as where are the areas which are flooded and the roads which are closed. On the other hand, the New Orleanians posted photos and videos of the areas of damage and where utility outages were occurring. All of the information was posted with specific hashtags so it was easy to track them. Any fake news were quickly clarified to prevent wrong information from further spreading around.
Using social media to correct the wrong
While organisations cannot stop false information and unfounded rumours from being circulated, they can correct the wrong and disseminate accurate information to the public. Misinformation about an organisation can lead to serious reputational damages and even regulatory issues. If an organisation finds itself entangled in fake news and ill-intended social media publicity, an immediate action to take would be to publish official announcements on its social media page to acknowledge the problem and inform the public that the organisation is seeking remedy on the situation. This is better than keeping quiet because silence may be misconstrued as guiltiness or acceptance to the false claims.
Two-way information exchange during a crisis can be easily facilitated through social media. For example, the dissemination of information, alerts and warnings can be quickly made to the relevant parties through one blast on social media, rather than picking up the phone to message or call every individual. In pressing situations where time is of the essence, organisations can choose to publish news on social media rather than exhausting time and resources to hold a press meeting.
Shared information on social media can provide information on the approximate magnitude of impact. The crisis management team can use this information to adjust their crisis management plans so that recovery can happen at greater efficiency. Facebook’s survey function, for instance, has helped relief effort teams to better gauge the resources that those in distress require so more of those resources like food supplies can be prioritised and delivered sooner to those who need them.
Organisations should see social media as a part of their operations and not a siloed function. Integration of social media is important and organisations stand to benefit from the connectivity and fast information relay that it can provide.