Researchers Review Boston Bombing Social Media Activity

Post by: Kim Stephens

800px-2013_Boston_Marathon_aftermath_peopleProject HEROIC–which stands for Hazards, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communications (see footnote)–took a close look at the online activity of official organizations during the recent domestic terrorist event in Boston and the ensuing suspect chase–that seemed like a marathon in itself.  They released a report today (May 10) titled “Following the Bombing” which I have summarize below.

Their Methodology and Findings

In order to understand  what types of information was provided to the public and how broadly it was distributed, the project team reviewed 29 different government agency or related Twitter accounts. The first question might be: why only Twitter? Researchers like Twitter–the data is easy to grab and analyze.

The project team reviewed two main items: 1. Rate of posting by the selected organizations and elected officials;  and 2. The percent change in followers  (spoiler alert: Boston PD had a 500% increase and the Boston PD PIO Cheryl Fiandaca had a 2291% increase).  The rate that these organizations posted was tied to their increase in followers, which is no surprise, however, there was a notable exception–Boston Fire Department.

Boston FD gained a 25% increase in followers without posting once the day of the attack. Their absence  was not lost on the Twittersphere, and the Boston FD even felt it necessary to defend their decision the next day.  They Tweeted that they deliberately did not post any Tweets from the scene because it is their policy not to “…show any injured person or discuss our treatment.” Quite a few people, however, thought their decision was unfortunate; at a minimum they could have simply ReTweeted the Boston PD account. As the researchers pointed out:  “…organizations that have increased their network size must provide information of value and to be aware that the public is watching.” Honestly, its about trust. People who follow official accounts do so because they know they can trust the content. The public followers also have a notion that they will provided information in timely manner-especially during incidents such as this one where everyone was looking for any tidbit  they could find in order to make sense out of the chaos.  It is not a stretch to see why people were upset.

Read the whole report here. I like some of their questions they pose at the end:  What can organizations do to ensure their newfound followers stick around? and What educational preparedness-type information should organizations provide to take advantage of the narrow window of attention they have? Let me know your thoughts.

Footnote: “Project HEROIC is a collaborative, NSF funded effort by researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of California-Irvine to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events. Through a combination of data collection and modeling of conversation dynamics, the project team aims to understand the relationship between hazard events, informal communication and emergency response.” (via: http://heroicproject.org/)

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4 responses to “Researchers Review Boston Bombing Social Media Activity

  1. Pingback: Researchers Review Boston Bombing Social Media Activity « UASI – The Urban Area Security Initiatives Blog #UASI

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup of Awesome Links: Week of May 13 2013

  3. Pingback: Researchers Review Boston Bombing Social Media ...

  4. Pingback: Social Media’s Impact on Current Events | Mike Madera

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