Social Media and Natural Disasters – An Australian Examination


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Earlier this year a series of natural disasters swept through my home State of Queensland. Many of my international friends reached out to get in tough as this unfolded, particularly as this YouTube video went viral. Many of them didn’t realise that Toowoomba was my home town – where I grew up and went to school.

I kept a close eye on these events, watching how they unfolded and how the new world of communication adapted and delivered fact, knowledge, and data. Earlier this week one of my LinkedIn connections sent me a link to this SlideShare presentation and I was impressed with the depth of the data and analysis around this critical period. Note that this presentation also has audio embedded so I’d encourage you to listen to the numerous segments.

Key Points for Consideration

I took a couple of important lessons from what was presented.

  1. Rumours and misinformation were a critical problem – this is an issue that is still being underplayed in my opinion
  2. The social media noise failed to really register until the broader event hit the major population centre of Brisbane – this has key implications for the idea that social media has a central role to play in disaster management
  3. The data seems to reflect geographic and demographic indicators that flow on from my previous point – maybe I’m reading the data wrong but it seems to me that the Ipswich community failed to use social media? I don’t understand this.
  4. I’d argue that by accident the core official channels and mainstream media quickly settled on the #tag #qldfloods and this aided the distribution of information – though as I noted above, this also fed the rumour/misinformation channel.
  5. The SlideShare PPT also compared some of the Queensland data with the later Christchurch earthquake – some of the data differences puzzled me and I’ll dig deeper on these in coming weeks – this includes the differences in who is distributing information and who is treated as a trusted source.
  6. I found Slide 13 quite interesting – is this indicative of @qpsmedia learning on the fly? A point they themselves admitted on their Facebook page mid way through the crisis?

Enterprise Lessons!

There were a few key, simple, and more complex lessons to take from this. My initial thoughts include:

  1. You need to get in early and utilise your social footprint so as to garner early ownership of eyeballs.
  2. Central to this is an easy to use hashtag (#tag) – Twitter’s #tags are now platform independent – agencies, corporations – anyone – needs to be conscious of this.
  3. Misinformation is the new PR vacuum. Just because you’re in the social space doesn’t mean you can relax. As the core Queensland agencies learnt – misinformation is a major issue.
  4. Don’t forget mainstream media – clearly what we’ve seen here is that social media channels like Twitter aren’t as pervasive as we would have thought.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Parker
Mark Parker is the founder of Smart Selling, and the specialist business unit – Smart Social Media. The core aim of both businesses is to help companies become better sales organisations by utilising the ideas, tools, and practices of Sales 2. and social media.


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