People are increasingly turning to social media services on their mobile phones and tablets for answers and real-time updates in the natural disasters and emergencies. Whether power outages, freak-storms, flooding, landslides, traffic pileups, earthquakes or similar situations, smartphones with mobile broadband connectivity and social media are emerging as a powerful new triumvirate in the digital era.
For those with Internet connectivity on their mobile phones and savvy knowledge of social media, the days of passively awaiting news from traditional media sources in the aftermath of a local emergency or national disaster are over.
The Digital Triumvirate
Smartphones, such as Apple’s iPhone and the army of mobile devices powered by Google’s Android operating system, are proving their emergency worthiness by empowering citizens to both discover and share what was happening with an ease and convenience that was not possible a few years ago. Mobile users can now to post-real time updates over the Internet, share photos with geo-tagging information to identify locations, and of course, make calls and send text messages too.
Mobile broadband services are also coming of age. In the areas with 3G and 4G mobile broadband service, surfing the Internet on your phone can be as fast as or even faster than access on your computer at home. This, however, comes at a price. Thankfully, fierce competition between mobile carriers is now providing consumers with a range of pricing options for both post-paid and pre-paid data plans. Mobile users with broadband data services will generally have faster access to online content. They will also typically be able post their own content, sharing text and multimedia information faster. Whether you’re creating or consuming content, high-speed Internet access on a mobile device can be a life-saver in an emergency.
Tech devices and broadband infrastructure need content to be of value. This is where the social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, and other content delivery platforms come in. These social networking sites, together with crowd-sourcing platforms like the navigation app Waze and the disaster-reporting site Ushahidi, allow mobile phone users to install software applications on computers, tablets and phones to share where they are and what they are experiencing with the world. These so-called mobile apps provide easy access to the content and features and connect individual mobile phone users with a global audience.
Feeding the Need for Real-Time Info
The public’s new expectation of information being readily available should not be lost on the media, emergency agencies, protective services, public authorities, and other organizations whose business it is to keep the public informed. The increasing public appetite for information-on-demand should also not be lost on the companies and Internet service providers whose businesses it is to keep the public connected and up-to-date.
Given the seemingly constant stream of local and international incidents, those responsible for implementing corporate social media initiatives should have no doubts about the importance of their mandate. Social media is not just about setting up a Twitter and Facebook account and assigning the resident technophile to “look after it”.
Social media in the mobile age is about being prepared to capture and share information as it happens, whenever it happens, where ever it happens
It is not sufficient to simply be on social media, you have to be able to interact through social media. If your organization is one the public should reasonably expect to hear from during a time of emergency or crisis, then you must ensure that your social media presence is backed up by the appropriate systems and human resources.
If your organization is not currently structured or resourced to take advantage of all modern communications channels, you are making a very public declaration to your audience – be they citizens, customers, staff, congregation, or members; your competitors; and the world – that your organization is not yet in tune with the realities of serving up information in the digital era.
The digital gauntlet is now before institutional content providers to get their social media act in order. Smart mobile devices and reliable mobile voice and broadband data connectivity are now part of a citizen’s disaster preparedness arsenal. This is why well-defined communications protocols and a clear social media engagement strategy need to be standard across the organisations people turn to in time of emergencies.
Social Media – a Digital Lifeline
The greatest factor in the success of a social media plan is not the policy document you produce or the technology you employ; it is the team you choose. Social media units must be genuinely passionate about connecting and building relationship with your online followers; and should be prepared to do whatever it takes to stay connected and to keep the information flowing.
Done right, the reward for initiative and diligence in executing your social media will not only be an growth in online followers, but an increase in the bank of goodwill and brand value built up with every post, tweet, re-tweet, like and +1. More importantly, your investment in social media can be a digital lifeline for those scrambling for information in times of crisis.