Who you gonna call (Part 2)

Who you gonna call (Part 2)

Recently I was talking to a colleague about the value (or not) of social media as new ways of communicating and engaging the public. Social networking is the way of the world now. One of the main challenges for emergency managers is to keep arrangements grounded in reality. If that’s how people are communicating in disasters, which we know it is, then we need to embrace it to get authoritative messages out there.

Accepting that I was preeching to the converted I took to twitter to get a reaction, and my favourite was from Rob Dudgeon, Director of Emegrency Preparedness at San Francisco Office of Emergency Management:


If we need to join the conversation, we need a better understanding of how people use social media organically.

CAVEAT – Despite being interesting, I’m not sure with a sample size of 8 that my results are any more conclusive than those adverts claiming 97% of people would recommend a particular shampoo. However, the results of my recent survey are in!

How many of your Facebook friends do you think you could call on in an emergency, perhaps to provide you with a bed, or a sofa, for a couple of nights?

I don’t want to prejudice the results of my survey, but here’s my hypothesis for ‘Average Joe’

  • 140 x 10% (who he feels he could contact) = 14 Facebook friends that he can contact
  • 14 x 50% (who live locally) = 7 of which live locally who could help Joe out

How did the results comapre to my predictions? Well, first, here’s a graph of the results. It’s interesting to see the difference between the responses in terms of how many people they would be comfortable asking for help. I’m sure there’s a lot more social analysis that could have been done to look into this – is it a product of age, gender, profession, or a combination of these and other factors?

There is significantly less variation between the friends that could help that live locally, which is euqlly interesting, but I’m not sure what that indicates. facebookwygc

Now, let’s use this crowdsourced data to update our details for Average Joe:

  • He has 272 friends on Facebook (greater than the 140 Facebook average)
  • Of those, he feels like he could call on 8.4% of them – that’s 23 friends
  • Of the 23 that he could call, the data suggests 2.41% live locally (this is far less than my estimate)
  • This means that Joe has 1/6th of a friend locally that he could pre-plan with – let’s be optimistic and round that up to one whole friend!

The main observation is that the number of people that users would be comfortable in asking for help, isn’t too far away from my 10% hypothesis, but that they might not necessarily be the people who are locally able to assist. This is interesting, becuase lots of other data suggests that Facebook is highly localised into geographic communities – yet are these communities that we would/could turn to in an emergency? From this rudimentary data collection, it looks like the majority of Facebook friends that we’d turn to for help are those who live further away from us.

What does all this mean? We got a pretty graph, and perhaps we identified that social media (or Facebook at least) doesn’t spell the end of the need to develop relationships and networks locally which you can use in an emergency.

The main lesson – social media is here, and it’s here to stay, but (at the moment?) it’s an addition rather than a replacement.

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