How Can Social Media Help Us?

How can social media help us?

Editors note: Since the creation of this article back in 2014 the applications for social media in crisis management has grown immensely - for a more up-to-date look, check out our more recent article 'How social media has impacted the way disasters are handled.' 

Over the last few years we've seen social media establish itself as one of the most viable communication tools for businesses and individuals alike. We've all by now seen first hand what it can do for us as individuals when arranging a gathering or coordinating a group of friends; but what does social media really 'do for us' and how is it being used to make the world a better place?

We tend to focus on utilising social media as a way of generating engagement and then funnelling that targeted web traffic back to specific pages or websites. This has positive influences on SEO growth and plenty of benefits to boot, but what about really original, really cool applications for social media that make a difference on a much grander scale?

Here we have tried to compile and explore some of the best 'practical' applications for social media that we have picked up on so far...

Empowering responders so that they can 'act' faster! 

In the UK we are unbelievably lucky not to encounter many natural disasters, but in countries that do face these, notifying and mobilising people are of the utmost importance. Ultimately the faster the reaction the higher the number of lives that will be saved.

A team at Stanford University has been testing Social Media as an early warning detection system for reacting to and dealing with the aftermath of Earthquakes. Its not just about notifying people as to the start of an earthquake, or the area affected, but looking for any geo-tagged tweets that include the words “earthquake” or “tsunami” which have been posted within the first x minutes of an event can unearth vital information on the ground. By also studying and analysing the language being used, the amount of activity around an event and the frequency of the posts in relation to it, responders get a much better idea of what they are dealing with and then, empowered, plot the best action to take.

Death of the whiteboard... 

There's a school in Amsterdam now using Facebook's Timeline feature to teach it's kids all about particular periods of History. The class is focusing on four subjects: Magellan’s voyages, 20th century inventions, Fashion history from 1950-present, and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. By not only focusing on the content but the chronology of events, students are able to experience a larger understanding of cultural and social themes, trends, and milestone achievements.

People are friends… not food…

The Aussies have found several good applications for Social media, but one is idea is to actively use Twitter to track and monitor the locations and behaviours of some 3000 Sharks! The organisers of the project have quickly found that regularly tweeting the animals' location has gone down well with both beach users and shark enthusiasts alike.

An Australian has a 1 in 3,362 chance of drowning at the beach and only a 1 in 292,525 chance of being killed by a shark! Even at those odds, I personally feel much better knowing I’ll get a Tweet through notifying me of any uppity giant Tuna that may be considering me as its next lunch option...

Using Youtube to find missing people

In America, a comprehensive survey of law enforcement officers, found that the majority agreed social media had helped them to solve crimes within their jurisdiction. One suburban Washington, D.C. police department announced its intention to live tweet a prostitution sting operation and in Australia (yes the Aussies really do know how to send a tweet!) Federal Police actually teamed up with YouTube to turn the always annoying and often unavoidable "pre-roll" (shown before the video you actually want to see) into the first scrolling missing-persons campaign. By the end of the campaign it had reached 1.2 million people, resulted in 238 viewers clicking "Yes, I have," and had won an activism award. Seriously how great is that!

There are also the really niche charity efforts we pick up on that never cease to amaze. These are usually always designed to draw attention toward a good cause and generate engagement / interaction for that cause. One such campaign was the #Twestival initiative back in 2009. This involved over 200 cities around the world holding an online #Twestival and inviting their users to join in, celebrate and of course – give!

By joining the worlds Twitter communities for an evening of fun and fundraising, these #Twestival’s raised over $250,000 USD (and that’s still rising) and succeeded in delivering clean water to over 17,000 people.

Better and faster emergency response in conflict zones

In Syria researchers used ‘conflict mapping’ which involved reading tweets, FB posts and more to decide how best to organise defences as well as to mobilise support and medical units to the areas worst affected by fighting. Honing in on spikes of activity meant that teams of doctors and medical professionals could get care to the right places at the right times and undoubtedly saved countless lives in the process.

In summary it’s easy to look at social media as a direct line to a sales market and only specifically as a sales tool. We believe it’s also important to learn more about completely new ways in which people are using social media to great effect. All over the world users are having these new, brilliant and original ideas every single day putting their networks to really good use and trying to help each other in the process. Whether it be keeping people informed and up to date regarding the latest natural disaster, determining the magnitude and power of an Earthquake or pinpointing the exact location of any 10ft Man eating fish that may be hovering around your lilo, social media has proven again and again that it is a must have tool for businesses and individuals alike.

Spotted anything particularly cool or had an idea? Then tell us about it! We really want to hear from you!

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