If there was any doubt about the increasing popularity and power of social media in New Zealand, that would have been quickly dispelled by the sheer volumes of communications carried on social networking sites in the hours and days following the Canterbury Earthquake.
The Nielsen Company reports that:
- 27,034 comments were posted on social networking sites and message boards in the six days after the first Christchurch earthquake struck
- Twitter received the highest overall volume of posts to a public forum, with 7,206 comments related to the disaster
- 8,170 posts were uploaded to local New Zealand message boards and forums, including Trade Me Message Boards (61%), Old School Forums (3%), Geekzone Forums (3%), Oh Baby Forums (2%) and PC World forums (2%)
- Hashtags were widely used to associate posts on Twitter with the earthquake, especially #eqnz (1,741 posts), as well as #christchurch (355 posts) and #christchurchquake (183 posts)
New Zealanders also made heavy use of video sites such as YouTube, dailymotion.com and Vimeo; and photo sharing sites such as Flickr to upload videos and images of the damage left by the earthquake.
As consumers turn to social media for news and information, authorities also need to ensure that they are making full use of these tools to keep the public informed and aware.
Offshore, more and more organisations tasked with protecting public health and safety are upskilling themselves and increasing their resources in social media.
The Expert Round Table on Social Media and Risk Communication during Times of Crisis last year prepared a useful guideline on the strategic challenges and opportunities to be faced. Amongst the tips cited:
- Prepare ahead of time, even when it means initiating a cultural shift. You need to allow your people room to grow into social media.
- Get feedback from users in the community.
- Tap into all available resources. Do you have a large group of volunteers available to you? Consider training some of them as social media ambassadors.
- Keep messages brief and pertinent. People are not really reading, they are scanning.
- Make sure you can receive public input. Monitor the social networks and respond to comments as required. Remember that social media is all about conversations.
- Integrate. Use social media to repeat and reinforce what’s being said through traditional channels – but remember it is a completely different channel with different consumer relationships and expectations involved.
- Have a Plan B. What if (as was the case for at least part of Canterbury) phone lines are down and the internet is unavailable?
- Focus on people when formulating your communication plan. Networks of people will get work done, even when there is no electricity.
And finally, be aware of the three main barriers to adopting social media:
(a) leadership buy-in;
(b) maintaining the programme
(c) IT/access issues