Social media and disaster: Staying plugged in
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02
The other day I was thinking about my future as far as my career goes, and I came to the unsettling realization that a large portion of my success will be determined by Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Also, if for some reason social media sites ever go under, I’m basically done for. However, the tornado reassured every doubt I’ve ever had about public relations and social media.
Social media played a key role in the preparedness level for the tornado that hit Hattiesburg on Sunday. I knew exactly where the tornado was heading five to ten minutes before it hit because of my Twitter feed. In fact, I followed the whole thing on Twitter and then decided it might be a good idea to turn on The Weather Channel. I was not in Hattiesburg, so I had the luxury of watching cable that evening. However, during a crisis, most people don’t have cable, so a social media feed is likely to be one of the only lines of information.
“Social media has proven to be the best method to get communication out in a variety of ways. It’s not just pushing information out, but asking for and giving information as well. It is something that has been proven to be the way to go in the future,” said Lici Beveridge, a digital and social media manager for the Hattiesburg American.
In the situation in Hattiesburg, social media has been key to organizing volunteer efforts. Around 900 University of Southern Mississippi students were mobilized for the campus clean-up through Facebook. People and groups from all over the United States are tweeting churches and businesses in Hattiesburg asking what they can do. Shelters are able to list what they need and have it shared and retweeted for the information to reach thousands of people. Social media allows many of our ideas and ambitions in a crisis situation to become a reality.
I looked back through my Xanga page recently, which was my first time around the social media block. Xanga is basically my virtual diary from ages 12 to 14. It also reminded me of what a name dropping, materialistic, middle school freak I was. Anyways, I posted on Xanga to express my feelings during Hurricane Katrina when my family’s home was destroyed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And by feelings, I mean my emotional capacity of about two sentences at the time. People commented on my posts and gave me “eprops” expressing their sympathy and prayers. Fast forward to 2013, where people can not only express thoughts, but mobilize volunteer efforts and send relief through social media, all from a few taps on an iPhone. There is also Instagram and Vine, which allow instant photo and video sharing to be used in a crisis. I doubt Xanga ever saw this coming.
A few hours after the tornado hit, I searched for “Hattiesburg” on Twitter, just expecting to see some top news tweets. However, I was blown away by the thousands of tweets expressing prayers and concerns for our city and university. There was one tweet that said “prayers for Hattiesburg, MS from Latvia.” Latvia is more than 5,000 miles across the world from Hattiesburg, by the way. It is incredible that someone that far knew about what was going on in a small Mississippi city just hours after it happened. That’s the power of social media.
Sure, social media gets a bad rap sometimes because of the girl who posts way too many selfies or the ridiculous people that passive aggressively tweet all their feelings, but the reality is that social media is the communication of the future. It eliminates the six degrees of separation and allows communication with anyone anywhere in the world. Social media is changing the face of crisis communication, and I’m honored to be a part of this new wave of communication.