The advent of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has empowered every citizen to share live updates on the situation around them during emergencies.
We have seen it happen during the Chennai floods, the downpour in Mumbai every year, and recently during the Kerala floods.
These updates helped people to reach out to their loved ones who were untraceable, raise funds for relief work, and provide useful information on emergency numbers, shelter homes, transportation, and even availability of food in the local areas. It also helped the law enforcement agencies and NGOs to track places that required urgent attention.
However, as with everything, there is a flip side to this powerful tool.
Social media also plays an active role in spreading fake news and causing panic among people.
Fake news and rumours were a part of emergencies even before social media made an entry into our lives. However, it had a very limited reach. With social media, the updates are seen and shared by several people across the world, and the news goes viral even before the law enforcement agency or a reliable source confirms it. Sometimes, even media picks up the fake news and publishes it without verifying the claims, as it happened in case of the Kerala floods where a Twitter user posted an old picture of the storage yard of Renault submerged under water, which was picked by a leading news publication[i]. Renault had to clarify later that the photograph was old and assure the safety of the cars.
Even WhatsApp was rife with fake news on Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) shutting down power stations entirely, and a video of an impostor dressed up as an army man complaining about the rescue operations, which were clarified by KSEB, Kerala Police and the Indian Army as hoax respectively.
Fake news can cause pandemonium among people if not tackled prudently. Of course, it can get difficult for the law enforcement to trace the rumourmongers and penalise them, while simultaneously leading rescue operations.
However, with social listening, this can be handled too.
Social listening enables brands to monitor and assess the discussions about them, their services and products on the internet. It helps them to understand their strength and weaknesses and to resolve customer queries within a less turnaround time. The conversations are monitored by using social listening tools that crawl the data and present it to the brand according to the structure determined by them.
Although brands primarily use these tools to maintain their reputation, the recent example of hurricane Florence shows how social listening has helped law enforcement agencies during emergencies[i].
In South Carolina, few students and faculty members of the Clemson University had huddled in Clemson’s Social Media Listening Center to help the South Carolina Emergency Management Division to share authorised updates on social media platforms. The team kept a close watch on the trending hashtags, SnapChat stories to enable the emergency department to reach out to the people requiring help. They also reached out to influencers to share authorised content and to ensure that their followers have access to the right information[ii].
With over 1.1 million times mention on social media, the emergency department was understandably finding it difficult to break through the clutter to spread the authorised news to people. However, with the help of social listening, the department has been able to receive updates on the condition on the ground and was able to address the queries of people and dispense the right information to them[i].
In the case of hurricane Florence, the emergency department was aware of the impending hurricane and was already working in tandem with Clemson University before the storm began.
However, this might not be the case with other unforeseen emergencies.
Thus, it is crucial for law enforcement agencies to collaborate with social listening agencies and use tools such as Germin8 to ensure preparedness during such situations. As Steve Combs who handles media relations for Anderson County Emergency Management says, “One of the things during crisis communications is the difficulty to have the manpower to really listen to what is going on.”
Social media listening offers the perfect solution to this problem. It not just listens to the conversations online, but also enables the rescuers to reach the citizens on time.
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- Role of Social media listening in timely rescue operations - October 9, 2018