Lee Kenny column: Social media is useful when disaster hits

Lee kenny, CEO of Snowflake Media
Lee kenny, CEO of Snowflake Media

If anyone doubted the usefulness of social media, surely the last few days will have helped change their mind.

Since Boxing Day, the speed at which both bad and good news has been spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp has been incredible.

While there is nothing new about flooding, the powerful images from photos and videos shared online really help to motivate people to take action.

Seeing familiar streets and businesses submerged under flooding in real time has brought out the best in people all over Calderdale.

After just three days, people all around Calderdale as well as around the world have managed to raise a staggering £177,000 via the Community foundation for Calderdale.

This fund will help those affected by flooding with emergency funding for things such as replacement white goods, cleaning materials & emergency accommodation.

Volunteer mobilisation

Facebook groups were instantly launched to let people know where help was needed. As the floods subsided people were able to share where needed help most and where donations were able to be left. After so much support it was also used to slow down donations of particular things, which really helped those organising efforts.

People power

Organisations like the council, police and environment agency used their social media channels to give updates, but the real power came from individuals. People on the front line were able to liaise with residents, volunteers, council officials and charitable organisations to get help where it was needed.

The images will be a great for documentary evidence to ensure all steps are taken to avoid such incidents in the future.

So what did we learn

1) Video and photos reach higher numbers of people more quickly.

Not all updates are equal. People posting videos and images saw more interaction and sharing than text alerts alone. This is partly due to the impact, but also due to Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms prioritising videos first, then photos

2) Not everyone is on social media.

Despite the power of social media, vast swathes of residents are simply not connected this way. So for any message, the ability to take it and send it via text message, letter or door to door will usually still be necessary to get the widest impact.

3) Engagement is everything.

When you produce something that is an instant hit with your followers, the social media channel will make sure the message reaches as many people as possible.

How charities and groups can reach more people

For those charities who use Twitter you can really increase your reach on key messages by switching to direct messages rather than tweets. Direct messages reach 30-50 times more people than an ordinary tweet.

Twitter typically isn’t great for group messaging, therefore consider using a technology like socialbro.com which allows you to reach 1000 of your followers with a single message within ten minutes.