Social media is becoming an increasingly important dynamic in disaster response; one that the authorities must engage with in order to remain current. This is particularly important given the potential for both intentional and unintentional misinformation.
This was one of the key points of the independent disaster report that was released by Santam last Thursday. Although social media helped to keep people informed and connected, there were many challenges as well.
The research provides insight into ways of better harnessing the potential of social media during disaster incidents. The research examined how people engaged on one influential Facebook page – the Knysna Fires 7th of June – during the incident. By late 2018, the group had received 49 080 likes and 52 105 followers and it was an important source of information both during and after the incident, providing a platform to mobilise resources to assist families affected by the fires.
The findings also show that although most posts were text only, people responded more to content, including a visual component, with popularity determined by the number of comments and shares per message. The research suggests that the content and format of social media posts, on Facebook at least, can be targeted and made more useful and appealing for users. This is important where social media is used as a tool to receive and disseminate information and suggests ways of improving the reach and effectiveness of social media posts.
The research further found that Facebook and Twitter played quite different roles during the incident. The Facebook page shared information, while Twitter influencers focused on donations and relief. This suggests that depending on the prominent users, social media platforms could be used to target different audiences and for different ends.
No doubt, the lessons learnt here can be applied in other spheres as well, including neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, as security becomes more and more of an issue with the alarming increase in crime in the country.
Click here to read more about the analysis of social media during the Knysna fires.