5 Ways Social Media are used for Disaster Recovery

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Post by: Kim Stephens

Yesterday I posed the question:  Is the frequency of using social media in crises and disasters bringing new innovations, progress, and improvements to crisis communications? Today, I would like to highlight 5 ways that social media have contributed positively to the recovery process, particularly with regard to citizens helping themselves and others.

1. Social Media are used for on-line collaboration to aid those in need.

Citizens providing aid to those affected by a disaster is nothing new. People have donated time, goods, money, etc. to disaster survivors probably since we walked upright. What’s new is the ease in which collaboration can occur.  The Four-Mile-Fire Help forum/website (re Boulder CO wildfires) is a case in point. The Forum operates as a clearinghouse for those offering assistance and those needing assistance. Everything you can imagine is listed from insurance help, animal help, food help, free therapy sessions; but the most viewed item is “housing help”. By choosing that link you see a list of people and businesses who have houses to rent, or space in their homes. People who need a place to stay can post their needs there as well.

However, with regard to monetary donations, there are mixed results. One article, Haiti Disaster Relief: Evaluating the Impact of Social and Digital Media, written just one-month after the earthquake, concluded: “although the role of mobile giving has been widely covered, its true impact is difficult to understand. Perhaps it increased the total number of donations or gained donors from a younger, previously unreached audience. But the negative impact of mobile donations is the danger of possibly cannibalizing potential larger donations because it tends to operate on the very low donations level.”

But others articles refute the claim that it’s only about mobile giving.  The article How Social Good Has Revolutionized Philanthropy illustrates how social media is used not only for soliciting donations, but for building a community. “Social good can bring attention to a cause and the companies trying to solve it without blindly canvassing for donations (or “the ask”). One person they interviewed for that article explained that its not just about money, saying “I want to build a relationship with someone over the next couple of years.”

Similarly, another on-line collaboration tool came from the Facebook company when it created “Global Disaster Relief on Facebook“.  Their stated purpose:

“We want Disaster Relief on Facebook to serve as a collaborative resource for individuals, non-profits, governments and industry to raise awareness for those in need around the world. We’re inviting relief organizations to be part of this effort so they can further highlight their needs during times of crisis. Most importantly, we hope all of you will join us by becoming a fan of Disaster Relief on Facebook and by continuing to support relief efforts along with your friends.”

The page has over 500,000 fans and has links to 16 different non-profit organizations and is helpful for those looking for a valid organization to send a contribution (which brings up another, somewhat uglier social behavior: exploitation). Also, see the article about the American Red Cross for another great example of non-profit organizations using social media to build a community.

UPDATE: Sept. 22, Facebook has announced the launch of a new social network called “Jumo”, which is described as a social networking website for non-governmental organizations with the idea of building relationships with people who feel strongly for a cause.  Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, was interviewed on “Talk of the Nation” yesterday and explained his motivation for the new network:

“We have networks that make it easy to connect with friends, to find a good restaurant to go to dinner, to watch a movie instantly, yet there’s no network for the social sector,” says Hughes. “The more that people know about a cause or a problem, the more that they know about the people who are working to develop solutions or implement solutions, the more likely they are to be aware of it or support those solutions.”

2. Social Media facilitate expressions of gratitude.

Expressing gratitude to public safety personnel is by no means confined to the social media world,  but it is interesting that a group formed on Facebook explicitly for this purpose after the Boulder, Colorado fire. Their page”Fourmile Heroes“is dedicated solely to thanking the response personnel. Their stated purpose is “…dedicated to expressing thanks and giving back to all responding heroes…that fought the devastating Fourmile Fire in Boulder, Colorado.” Through the page they organized a parade and mobilized citizens to show up at that event in order to honor the public safety personnel involved and also raise money for those in need. What is new here is not the “why” but the “how”.

3. Social media facilitate expressions of grief.

Although the examples above were related to the Fourmile fire in Colorado, I’d like to use an example of how social media can aid in recovery from an example closer to home. Recently a teenager (14) was killed in our community. Of course the kids who knew him, even those that didn’t, were overwhelmed  with grief.  Through social media they were able to post their comments on the deceased’s facebook page, watch old videos of him singing on YouTube, and organize themselves through forwarded text messages to wear his favorite color to school the first day back after his death. These same sorts of activities occur on a larger scale when an entire community is affected by a disaster, or when more than one person dies, as in the Virginia Tech Shooting incident. See the scholarly article: A Framework to Identify Best Practices: Social Media and Web 2.0 Technologies in the Emergency Domain by Connie White and Linda Plotnick. They call this “social convergence”.

4. Social media are used to share an individual’s experiences of the crisis or disaster.

Sharing your experience after a disaster is cathartic. Social media appears to be filling this need. After the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake a facebook page was created with the title “I survived the Christchurch Earthquake“. The stated purpose of the group was simply “WOW”. More than thirteen thousand people “like” that page. It seems to just be a place that people can post their pictures.Their discussion page, however, does list some “useful websites for information”.

5. Social media are used to provide information after the mainstream media have left the story.

Once the response phase of a disaster comes to an end, the mainstream media (and maybe even the government) declares the event over and leaves, sometimes well before the community has recovered, see Gulf Oil Well is Dead but Pain Will Remain. Blogs, facebook pages, and online community groups or forums are sometimes one of the few outlets for information for citizens: hundreds of tweets mentioning BP Oil Spill or Deepwater Horizon can still be found. Increasingly, local governments, and even the federal government are using social media to fill the void as well. The Deepwater Horizon federal response facebook page is still up and running (almost 38,000 people “like” their page–although some of the comments lead you to believe they don’t like it at all).

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5 responses to “5 Ways Social Media are used for Disaster Recovery

  1. Thanks for linking to our commetrics story — Maybe I can mention another one called:
    Social media’s failed acid test: Pakistan disaster response

    http://commetrics.com/?p=9865

    Thanks so much for mentioning us. I am still curious how we can better leverage social media in cases of a horrendous disaster as the one in Pakistan and/or Haiti.
    Urs

  2. Nice to hear about improvements to the recovery process. Social media seem to be a promising new tool for this field of endeavor. See more on recovery matters at: http://recoverydiva.com.

  3. This is a great article. It discusses something very important in regards to disaster and crisis situations which is, as the author says, the ways, ” that social media have contributed positively to the recovery process, particularly with regard to citizens helping themselves and others.” Social media is enabling the chaos surrounding crisis situations to run a little more smoothly and is providing comfort to the people involved or who have loved ones involved.

    INgage Networks has been accommodating various social media trends, including community, crowdsourcing, and social mobile for 10+ years. Our ELAvate Community software is ideal for disaster and crisis situations. It is an online community with a full set of social media features including quick notification to your entire community of serious concerns. To take a look at our ELAvate Community splash page, click here: http://www.ingagenetworks.com/elavate-community

    To see our customer success stories utilizing ELAvate Community as well as our other ELAvate Business Services, please visit this page http://www.ingagenetworks.com/customers

  4. Excellent. I love the fact that you have highlighted that it’s not just about data and facts – it’s about having a shared experience.

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