Social Media Behavior in National Crises - and Business Lessons

Has social media demonstrated yet another side to its under-estimated potential in the wake of national crises? People began reviewing the impact of Twitter and Facebook during the uprising in Egypt and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Similarly, the current flooding in Thailand has also leveraged social media as a tool in public health and public opinion – in a context where such information might not be as candidly expressed through traditional channels. This “democratization” of information-sharing isn’t news (especially for cultures where public criticism is not a norm) – but upon closer examination, how can businesses apply these social media behaviors learned in dire circumstances?

First, what does social media and national crises tell us about our online behavior?

  • A crisis brings a sense of urgency that increases online activity. Human nature: we act under pressure or shock. Many Bangkok residents began posting pictures at the first sight of their neighborhoods waist-deep in water. But again, with parts of the city somewhat immobilized, folks do have idle time with to surf the net.

  • Online information during a crises is limited to its consumer base, and it is at the mercy of the digital divide. Other provinces of Thailand have been submerged for months, but Bangkok updates are more visible because of its greater usage of smartphones and in-home computers.

  • Television and print journalism outlets (including an increase in English language news with the Bangkok Post or Thai PBS International targeted at expats) are posting on their Facebook pages every few hours – with the latest water management and redirection measures at the street and district level. Most impressively, fans are asking questions about their streets and getting prompt responses!

  • YouTube videos are going viral to spread the word on public health tips as well as the country’s (lack of) flood management policies. A pro-bono group of researchers, scriptwriters and animators called “RooSu Flood” have banded together and created webisodes that increase awareness on water-borne illnesses and common dangers in a flood (electrical short-circuiting, protective footwear, food rationing and consumption). An individual even posted the Thai King offering counter-measures to address Bangkok’s vulnerability to flooding – videotaped in after the last major capitol flood in 1996 – that eerily foretell this year’s flood devastation. And beyond these are a slew of home-made music videos depicting the current “plight of the people” floating down the street in a recently purchased rowboat.

  • Social media has also allowed for speedy group organizing and networking. Thai diaspora communities outside of Thailand have joined forces to network across the globe to share their own local relief fundraisers.

Finally, what are the business applications to these trends?

  • Step outside your day-to-day sales challenges as marketing manager to see the “big picture.” Smell the air and keep an ear out for these urgent and time-sensitive issues happening in your industry and field of expertise where you can get involved and be seen on social media as an advocate and advisor.

  • Join the conversation and actively participate. Those RooSu Flood saw a unfulfilled need to increase public health awareness and got to work. To bring the lesson a little closer to home, if I were a distributor of tents, medical supplies or camping gear, I would see a very visible opportunity with Occupy protestors – which leads to the next bullet point…

  • Getting involved with national causes and heated topics gets messy (even natural disaster relief has political implications) – and alienating potential customers and partners who don’t identify with your stance is inevitable – but it is also a true test of your brand and integrity as a business-owner. You might lose 5 fans but gain 3 “super-fans” who are worth their weight in gold (or marketing dollars).

Reach out with any questions you might have regarding how RSO can help you with your digital marketing.

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