At its’ simplest, social media is just a fancy term for capturing billions of conversations, from every corner of the globe. Underlying this superficial function though, there is a profound shift in the way people connect, marking a revolution in human interaction not seen since the telephone.
Since adoption rates of the major social platforms began to rival the traditional gods of media on reach and frequency the flood gates have opened, and empowered each person to become their own new media channel. Unprecedented audience reach, real-time response and access to today’s social media platforms has placed people at the centre of new media like never before – an open call is out for ‘on the ground’ civilian reporters to broadcast real news, as it happens and millions of people have taken up the cause. More and more often the world is turning to social media to speak our mind and influence our surroundings. Consequently, we’re relying less and less on slow churning, selective traditional media networks.
The crest of change is apparent in crisis and disaster response, when people are acting on their most basic instincts to reach out, get help and contact loved ones. Increasingly social media is providing the framework for this – driven by user need and proven effectiveness. Looking back just 6 years to the devastating tsunami that swept through Asia in 2004. Millions of people around the world witnessed that disaster and became deeply engaged, but still relying heavily on centralized traditional media as their main source of information, news and response.
Social media open channels mean that we are no longer formalised in how we receive information and react to it after a disaster. Social provides speedy, low cost channels and quality of information in emergencies that is unrivalled by traditional networks and media. In the minutes following the recent Japanese quake hash-tags were created like #quake and less than an hour later, tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter.The immediate communication channels increased users’ ability to navigate in the midst of chaos and was potentially life-saving for the people caught up in the middle of it.
As social platforms normalise into daily life, each of the major players have found their role in facilitating crisis response; from breaking the news to connecting loved ones, fundraising, and joining together in grief:
Twitter hashtags – With a billion Tweets a week and estimated users over 225 million (Jeff Bullas) it’s a massive resource of all information and there is no faster way to exchange information with unrestricted networks of people around the world in real time. Research shows it’s been a key source of breaking news in disasters since the Haiti earthquake in early 2010 – and has even started educational pages to help non-tweeters use it during emergencies – Japan link?? –
Google Person Finder is set up in times of crisis to facilitate the search for displaced and missing people. The page allows people to leave information about their whereabouts or information about a missing person. At the time of writing, there were about 158,700 records for Japan — more than 140,000 more records than were submitted to the last such site it set up for the victims of the Christchurch earthquake in February.
Facebook disaster relief pages lists details on emergency shelter, medical help, and other crucial info to navigate the days following a major disaster. It encourages people to reach out with messages and photo’s and join networks together in support and mourning. An interactive graphic created by Facebook to illustrate the spread of news shows the true power of social as a news source.
According to Red Cross Social Media Director Wenday Harman – Fundraising on Facebook, has yet to fully track conversions of fundraising efforts, but they believe the impact has been significant. The focus on Facebook increased after more than $8m was raised by text message donations, driven largely by social media.
In such a short time the world has transformed itself. We’re no longer passive consumers of centralised mass messaging. We choose to get the news we’ve created, and share it with our networks to represent ourselves and our interests and passions – the real news.