Tag Archives: Christchurch Earthquake

In a crisis, Social Media are the new flag poles.

Guest Post by: Rachel Goodchild (New Zealand native, and Blogger.)  This is an exerpt from a longer piece on social media’s application in business.) I (Kim Stephens) have added some  additional thoughts and observations.  Photo credit:  Martin Luff: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23934380@N06/5474235937/

When the Christchurch Earthquake hit (all too literally), it was early in the morning. Much to the frustration of locals struggling to find what was happening, it was not picked up and reported by media right away. However, twitter was awash with information, and users were able to check on each other en masse. As they checked on who had power, what damage had been experienced, and if everyone in that online community was ok, it was clear that the speed in which information could be communicated across this network, often through mobile phones, was astounding.

From a business model, this demonstration of social media’s power to connect with people, solve problems and communicate a message fast and fluently was never more powerful than in those early hours, and later on in the days that followed, with the news of each aftershock becoming broadcast through twitter and facebook a good twenty minutes earlier than the now primed media organisations. Journalists began to use and quote from these sources, half drafting a response ready to go live within minutes of each new event, rather than hours.

This disaster has impacted our people, and our economy, but has also clearly demonstrated how fast a message can get out on the social networks. It also showed how easy it is for one piece of misinformation to grow. Early reports on twitter of looting in the streets turned out to be one or two isolated incidents. Imagination and one hundred and forty characters can be a dangerous combination when unhindered in their message.

Twitter works well in a crisis situation because it’s not device specific. As Catherine Arrow [a New Zealand based, public relations consultant] explains, “You can access it where ever you are. With an Iphone and a flip camera I have everything I need to broadcast a message” This can then be resent out from the people following her to whoever is following them and so on.

(Rachel’s piece continues to discuss the pure business application of social media when organizations are not in a crisis, for more info click over to her blog.)

Social Media are the Flag Poles (Story continued: by Kim Stephens)

Emergency management organizations implore people to include in their personal preparedness plan a physical place to rendezvous after a crisis, for example, the flag pole. With the advent of social media, however, this new rendezvous location can now also be virtual. I understand the limitations of only relying on a network that might possibly be down, nonetheless, the Christchurch earthquake has provided us with some interesting examples of this concept. Rachel mentions people checking on each other “en masse” via social media. In a recent post, I discussed how companies could use social media after a disaster for continuity of business purposes, to include accounting for staff whereabouts and safety. This is exactly what happened in New Zealand with the telecom company.

I feel a little guilty eavesdropping on this company’s Facebook page, but I think how they used the platform is a great example of my flagpole metaphor. This particular telecom company had an active role in the disaster response:  restoring and maintaining communications. However, they also, of course, needed to account for all of their employees. Above is one of the first posting to their facebook page after the quake.

Subsequently, they used the site to find people who had not yet been accounted for. (This person was found.)

This is just one example, but with each new event we are increasingly seeing people using social media to “check-in” and to “check on” friends, families and employees. Businesses should understand that if they do have a social media presence, it can be used for so much more than developing relationships with customers. It really can become a hub for your employees after a crisis. Maybe its time to think about including this in your preparedness plan.

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