Improving our use of social media in times of crisis
Queensland. Rain. Floods. Cyclones. Crises.
In recent years, these words are being used together more often. It’s not hard to see why, with photos, memories and even homes serving as a reminder to the tragedies we Queenslanders have faced. In these times of crisis and confusion some of the more traditional methods of communication have been failing – and so we have turned to social media.
On Thursday, SLQ was fortunate enough to host the 2nd Annual National Conference on Improving Our Use of Social Media in Times of Crisis. Presented by the Eidos Institute in partnership with QUT, the full-day conference drew speakers from the Queensland Police, Emergency 2.0 Wiki, Bushfire CRC, Department of Community Safety, Crickey and more. Audience members listened to discussions on social media use by emergency authorities, sharing crisis footage online, managing social media rumours, and crowdsourcing situational information.
For those of you who missed out on this insightful event, Associate Professor Axel Bruns, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, QUT, has highlighted some key themes from the event:
“Natural disasters appear set to be a frequent phenomenon in Queensland and the rest of Australia over the coming years. From the devastating Queensland floods in 2011 to this summer's series of cyclones affecting most of the state, from record heatwaves to the major bushfires striking southern states, emergency services and related agencies are being stretched to their limits and barely have a chance to catch their breath between disasters any more.
It is becoming all the more important, therefore, to involve the general public in disaster response and recovery activities where it is safe and sensible to do so. In the first place, this relates to the dissemination of information about the current disaster situation, where - in addition to conventional channels including television and local radio - online media play an increasingly important role.
Secondly, such media can also be instrumental in coordinating community-led responses to major disaster events - as demonstrated by the spontaneously organised army of clean-up volunteers following the 2011 floods and Baked Relief initiative which provided free home-cooked food to many of these volunteers.
Mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly seen as a key component in the crisis communication toolkit of the emergency services. The Queensland Police Service's Media Unit has received national and international praise for its use of such tools, and my colleagues and I at the ARC Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) have documented just how successful their @QPSMedia Twitter account was at keeping Queenslanders informed about the 2011 floods.
But more still can and must be done to develop our emergency services' social media skills and capabilities. Strategies for disseminating information effectively, and for engaging with social media users to ensure that they contribute productively to this dissemination effort, must continue to be updated as the general uses of these platforms themselves change; from reviewing the use of social media in recent events in Australia and elsewhere we can learn much about what works and what doesn't when it comes to crisis communication in social media spaces.”