In this guest post, the team from Banter Group, a full service marketing consultancy and agency, questions what role social media plays during a community crisis.
It’s been a devastating Summer in Australia. On the back of what seems like an endless drought that has numerous regional communities on their knees; the on-going dry conditions exacerbated the bushfire risk, culminating in what is regarded by the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) as one of the worst bushfire seasons in living memory.
So what role does social media play in this crisis situation that many Australians have directly been caught-up in this Summer? We think a very important one, we think an overwhelmingly positive one.
The rise and rise of social media in recent years has often resulted in negative commentary around social media platforms and their purpose. It’s common to hear people refer to social media with comments like these: “It’s just all about money and ads.” “There is so much fake news and I just find myself scrolling endlessly and wasting my time.”
Valentina Borbone, CEO of Banter Group and an Expert Advisor to the International Social Media Association, said that “While there may be an element of truth in these statements, in times of crisis such as we have seen this Summer in Australia, social media platforms have been utilised in highly functional ways as a communication channel. Social media platforms are being relied upon by many individuals and organisations for a range of purposes as this crisis continues to unfold; and have largely been leveraged as a very powerful force for good.”
The State-wide RFS and the local RFS teams have been using social media posts as one of their key communication tactics to keep people informed about the latest fire updates. These posts via social media may have in-fact helped to save lives and properties as people were informed about when to evacuate early and repeatedly reminded about having a fire plan.
Social media platforms have also helped to facilitate an uprising of people power in a situation of crisis and trauma, allowing them to connect, share experiences, vent their fear and anger, offer heart-felt sympathy to those who are suffering losses and to mobilise donations of goods and money.
Celeste Barber, an Australian who is enjoying worldwide success as an actor, writer, and comedian, wrote this on her Facebook fundraising post as the bushfire crisis in Australia emerged: “Please help any way you can. This is terrifying. We need your help.” Flashforward one week and this plea via Facebook has resulted in over $50M being donated (and rising at the time this article is being written).
“What a result, what a collective effort, what an incredible example of a social media platform being utilised for good. That Facebook post helped to leverage the clout of Celeste who is loved and respected globally and has stimulated a wave of donations and outpouring of support” Valentina said.
Being based in Bowral, in the Southern Highlands NSW, the Banter Group team have been close to the destruction and devastation these unrelenting bushfires are inflicting.
One of our clients had their business burnt to the ground in the brutal fire at Cobargo and another lost her home in Exeter.
Sara Haslinger’s home was burnt to the ground by the flames of the Currowan Fire. She has courageously and generously been sharing her reaction to this heart-breaking loss via a local Facebook Southern Highlands’ group in the hope that it will help others who are also suffering.
She wants her story to reach as many people as possible and is using Facebook to help unite the community and express her sincere gratitude; in her words:
“This community is amazing, pulling together as we work together to get through this horrendous loss. RFS volunteers, neighbours, strangers, family and friends. We have lost our home this morning and we are so grateful for the support and connection.”
Social media platforms are being used to help mobilise people to sew pouches for orphaned joeys, alert communities to the fact that their local RFS team is short on bottles of water, meals and protein bars, for people to offer free accommodation to those who have been evacuated from their homes, and the list goes on.
Hashtags related to the Australian bushfire crisis are gaining traction worldwide and helping to drive donations. #Australiabushfires has been used over 41,000 times at the time of writing this piece. Collective art auctions are being held using the hashtag #ozfireartauction generating 10’s of thousands of dollars in donated funds that are going directly to charities such as Red Cross, the RFS and Wires Wildlife Rescue. @emptyesky has over 16.5k followers in record time – A movement of foodies + adventurers supporting local businesses affected by the #Australianfires, to name a few.
“Any evolution in society as significant as social media will always come with some pitfalls and risks. The Australian bushfire crisis has been a situation where I have seen the power of social media platforms harnessed for good,” Valentina said.
Let’s hope that 2020 brings some relief to the drought-stricken areas and that we as a nation can continue to collaborate on and off social media platforms to help those in need.