Millennials are often criticized for their over-reliance on social media. They often prefer online health advice to doctor’s visits; plan their vacation based on the destination’s “instagram-worthiness” and cite social media as their main news source.
However, when it comes to disaster management, judging millennials for their “obsession” is tediously wrong-headed, it can do a real disservice. In fact, there may not be a better tool than social media when it comes to responding to a disaster, organizing resources, and mitigating damage.
Not only are millennials in a good position to act as leaders in these situations, they can serve as educators as well. Here are for some practical uses of social media during a disaster as well as some best practices organizations can implement.
Disaster preparation: create smart social media policies
Unfortunately, too many companies create reactionary policies when it comes to social media. These policies tend to focus on mitigating the behaviors of a small percentage of abusers rather than taking a positive approach and maximizing social media’s potential as a business tool.
When disaster strikes, these policies can be very dangerous. When employees or customers are unable to access social media they are limited to other forms of communication. Considering that other pathways to getting information out could be limited that could be problematic, policies that involve blocking access to social media could be a bad idea.
Community forums can be used to share information and resources
Neighborhoods and other community groups are already using social media to connect with one another and share information. Location based groups on Facebook and other social media platforms are being used to share information about community events, offer items for sale or trade, and even as a source for help and advice.
In 2017, FEMA announced that it would be leveraging the Nextdoor app to send location relevant messages during disasters. Using messenger apps in this way is ideal for keeping residents up to date on information and resources that is as useful to them as possible.
Even without the participation of government agencies, these community forums can still be an extremely useful resource. Imagine residents impacted by flooding being able to inform each other which local roads were passable and which pharmacies or grocery stores remained open.
Brands can use social media to provide practical help and information
Disasters can disrupt supply chains and negatively impact business operations. That can negatively impact a business’ ability to provide needed supplies to customers during disasters. Not only can this leave already suffering communities reeling, it can be a PR disaster for brands as well. Worse, during these times brands’ responses on social media often ranges between tone deaf and wildly insensitive.
This is a shame because businesses have the ability to utilize their social media presence to broadcast important information to a wide audience during and after a disaster. They can provide updates on availability of supplies as well as informing the public of resources they do have to offer. Millennials who are connected with these brands can help to spread that information to their own followers.
Picture and video sharing can help agencies gauge impact
People who use Instagram and other sharing sites can provide extraordinarily valuable resources to public and private agencies tasked with rendering aid. By posting geotagged pictures to agencies’ Instagram pages, or by tagging various agencies, citizens can help officials gauge what is happening and where. This can help them to determine where to send responders and route supplies.
When agencies are slow to respond, geotagging can also get the attention of news outlets and other news agencies. This can serve the dual purpose of getting information out as well as leveraging media pressure and attention to get help where people need it.
Bloggers can share vital information that can be used after a disaster
While a blog certainly isn’t the most efficient way to spread information during a disaster, it can be a valuable resource during the post-mortem period. When kept up to date during a disaster, a blog serves as a time-stamped written recording of events and experiences. This can be much more useful, for example, in identifying successes and failures in established procedures and protocols than relying on people to properly recall things.
Community agencies can build confidence with regular updates
Not much causes more dread in a disaster than radio silence from the powers that be. Community and government agencies can work to establish a solid social media presence, and cultivate a following prior to disasters. Then, they can use those same social media accounts to keep citizens updated.
When disaster strikes, both citizens and entities can use social media as a powerful tool. It can be used to organize resources, spread information, and provide education.