The Role of Social Media During October's Floods is Under Study
When the flood hit last October, Joanna Derrick wanted to find a way to help flood victims. She posted a picture of her husband's army-grade truck to Facebook and offered help. She ended up salvaging apartments in the Willow Street Complex in St. Andrews with hundreds of volunteers helping who had seen her Facebook posts. By the end of the week, they cleared out all 123 units. She says it wouldn't have been possible without social media, "it would have taken too long, this was such a time-sensitive thing. We were in-and-out of that complex. There were 23 buildings. It's giant! And we were in and out of there in a week."
Cooper McKim reports on the value of social media during October's historic flood.
An Associate Professor at University of South Carolina, Heather Brandt, saw Derrick's project play out online. She also saw hundreds of posts with weather updates, calls for donations, where people can get water bottles, and more. She became curious at how organizations were using social media throughout the flood. After all, she says it's so different from traditional media where, "you have to be in front of a TV - you have to have a radio. There has to be [content]. Social media is much more immediate, much more responsive and offers us this very quick opportunity to provide information efficiently and effectively to large numbers of people."
Brandt says research started only a month after the flood since tweets would expire after only a few weeks. Her research team downloaded as many relevant posts as possible to examine how twitter and Facebook were used most effectively during the response and recovery phases. Brandt says, "this is all designed to figure what worked, what didn't, what we can learn from that, and how can we be better prepared going forward." Volunteers walking around the Willow Creek Apartment Complex
She says the South Carolina Emergency Management Division stands out for their use of social media during the flood. SCEMD Chief of Staff, Steven Batson, says the division uses ten different social media platforms to reach as many people as possible. "It gives us the ability to reach an audience at their level, their concerns. Sometimes human impact can be lost as your trying to speak to the state," he says. Flood victims were posting images and videos people driving around barriers or kids swimming in flood water. Batson says they could address that directly with social media by commenting or messaging.
Heather Brandt says it will likely be several more months before her research team has any tangible results. Their goal is to identify best practices for social media use during a natural disaster. She says some of the questions they're asking include, "How well did that work? It looks like on the surface everything is good, there's lots of collaboration. But now that we're delving a little deeper into the data we have available from social media, how could that possibly be improved going forward?"
Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported the SCEMD Chief of Staff as Tom Batson. His name is actually Steven Batson. We regret the error.