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S SOCIAL MEDIA ď&#x161;ť ASSET, THREAT OR DISTRACTION IN A CRISIS? DA8=6 0 2A8B8B 8=5>A<0C8>= 20= CA0E4; 0C ;867C B?443 02A>BB C74 F>A;3 A4F 81B>= 2>=B834AB F74C74A 2><?0=84B 20= >A B7>D;3 CAH C> :44? ?024 F8C7 C78B =4F <4380 4=E8A>=<4=C  !"!% (>;5,  What is social media? When the internet was first conceived in the 1960s, the concept was that it would be a means of sharing information between scientists and academics, but it subsequently became much more than that. Social media is the logical progression of this ability to share information amongst networks of users capturing imaginations and memes1 to bring people together. Whether we like social media or not, the numbers speak for themselves; Facebook has over 500 million users, LinkedIn 100 million users, Twitter 200 million users and Friendster 115 million users. The list goes on, there are literally thousands of sites and even if you consider a significant overlap between them, it is not unreasonable to assume that over one billion people regularly use a social media site. Based on a world population approaching seven billion people, taking away those without any internet access, too young or too old to actively engage, it is clear that using this phenomenon is no longer the preserve of a group of technology students in their dorm rooms; in fact 54% of Facebookâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s users are over 34. What impact does it have on crises? Social media has allowed communication and information sharing on a previously unimaginable scale in terms of speed, volume and accessibility across the globe. Messages can be sent at the touch of a button, not only to one person, but to everyone within your network making speed of dissemination far quicker than any email or phone call, or even the newswires. Combined with the associated technological developments, these messages can also be viewed anywhere. It took less than three and a half minutes to send the first picture on Twitter of the US Airways flight 1549 after it crash-landed on the Hudson River in New York in 2009; it will have taken even less time for it to be re-tweeted multiple times around the globe. Combined with the weight of numbers that these â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;networksâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; generate, the speed of dissemination creates a real challenge for an organisation in the midst of a crisis, as BP discovered last year. The number one search term on Twitter in 2010 was #GulfOilSpill, whereby a huge number of activists coordinated protests at BP filling stations and offices around the world. And in the Middle East, social networks have facilitated the drive for change â&#x20AC;&#x201C; as one of the protesters in Tahrir Square said: â&#x20AC;&#x153;We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.â&#x20AC;? It is undoubtedly a powerful tool and while some perceive it to be a negative influence, many organisations have used it to their advantage in managing events. In the London Students Fees Protests, it was used to track the routes protesters were taking and where factions were grouping to cause trouble; in Australia, the Queensland Police Service used it to coordinate the rescue efforts following the severe floods. Thus, organisations can benefit from the hugely positive ability of the social networks to disseminate key messages in support of their crisis response and benefit        ocial media is sometimes perceived to be the root cause of crises; but do we concern ourselves with the sites themselves or the capability they derive and how do we use this to our advantage when a crisis occurs? From Pheidippides the Greek messenger, to the telegraph, the telephone and on to the computer and the smart phone, someone has always wanted to be the first to receive a piece of news or information. While the advent of social media allows the sharing of information to be taken to a new level of speed and reach in our globalised world, in reality, it is simply another new method of communicating news to one or many recipients. Its power and significance lies in its immediacy, and allowing connectedness and participation in conversations amongst wide communities without boundaries. As a result, it has the potential to become the centre of the way we communicate and already is for some.

Social Media - Asset, Threat, or Distraction During a Crisis?

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