Twitter and emergency retweets in times of disaster
Twitter and other social media tools are commonly used around the world. Now, many government and not-for-profit organizations have a presence on at least one of these systems and use them in various ways to share information about their activities and engage with people.
For organizations that work in disaster zones and emergency situations, these tools can also be used to coordinate activities, help raise funds and disseminate timely news that can help in relief efforts. New research from the Department of Political Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, USA, suggests that just half of the Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies around the world have adopted Twitter. They assessed the factors influencing adoption rates as well as message type and frequency, and the ability to reach large audiences. Writing in the International Journal of Emergency Management the researchers report that adoption is constrained by the digital divide and country population size. The team defines the digital divide as the disparity between country-level internet access rates.
Moreover, the researchers, Clayton Wukich and Ashish Khemka, found, the existence of an account on Twitter does not necessarily mean that the target audience is necessarily aware of its existence or engaging with it. There are significant limitations to organizational reach and many people who need to receive important content on a timely basis may not actually do so. However, the team observed high activity rates in countries such as Kenya, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which they say indicates the potential for continued growth in developing economies, especially as internet access increases.
The researchers recommend several strategies based on their findings that could help organizations improve their reach and engagement. For instance, they suggest that organizations must plan to make personnel available for handling social media throughout and subsequent to any large-scale disaster. At the technical level, organizations should use hashtags in order to expose their messages to the largest possible audience and to create some coherency during particular disasters. The team also found that while a link to additional information might be useful the presence of a link, a URL, actually reduced the rate at which Twitter users shared a particular update, it correlated negatively with retweets, in other words.