Perception Is Reality

Why Twitter is Pakistan’s Best Resource: Crisis Management in a Constant State of Turmoil

Posted on: March 13, 2010

In the recent weeks that I have become active on Twitter (@TabishB), I have read many wonderful posts about how it is a key resource in crisis management. My new friend, David Clare (@thePRview) of The PR View has some wonderful posts on the use of Twitter in crisis management.

Twitter Enables Communication – The MLEE Effect

I have considered social media to be part of civil society, and as such, platforms such as Twitter allow for the democratic participation of audiences who are now able to take on their roles as authors. Communication takes on its true form: multi-lateral, engaging, and empowering.

So, what has this got to do with Pakistan? Well you see, in recent times, there have been a multitude of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the most recent one in Lahore just over a day ago. People die, property is destroyed, the economy is hit, and there is general chaos. This can be summed up as hazard and outrage as discussed by Lachlan & Spence (to be explained in an article that will follow).

Twitter is Accessible – How The Pakistani Telecom Sector Makes This Possible

And everyone knows, that Pakistan has one of the cheapest mobile telecommunications system available (Look at some ads here). The most poor too, can afford a cellphone. I myself have seen sweepers and peons (with a meagre salary of less than Rs. 5,000 a month) carrying a cellphone. Somehow, the need to communicate takes precedence over physiological needs (I wonder if this is a peculiar case that Maslow did not foresee).

Advantages

Many times, instead of dispersing from a site of a terrorist attack, citizens begin gathering around ground zero. A second timed explosion hits the same area, and since a larger crowd has gathered, the explosion causes more damage. The first explosion is usually an attention grabber, and the main course (so to say) is the second attack.

So, in cases like these, it seems like a desirable idea to utilize Twitter to manage the crisis: If the local township governments use a Twitter account where the rest of the local citizens can tweet, reporting about the missing or dead, may allow for quick, safe compilation of statistics. In turn, the townships can submit local reports to the provincial authority to build a consolidated report. Twitter also allows for the township to manage outrage (at the crisis, and post-crisis stage) by communicating directly with its audience.

Psychologically, people have a need to take action. The logical thing to do is rush to the aid of fellow citizens. But because this is hazardous, the need to take action can be diverted to Tweeting, providing some reduction in outrage. Tweeting about missing, injured, or the dead with specific hashtags (may I recommend township name followed by type of case: #Clifton-missing or #Saddar-injured) to the relevant township Twitter account will allow for more effective (targeted) mobilization of resources on part of authorities.

By the same token, communicating about updates about the missing or injured reduces the burden other media carry about the crisis. For example, the Clifton township may reply to my tweet about a missing friend, saying

@TabishB Jehangir Dost has been located. Location: JPMSO Ward A #Clifton-missing

Jehangir Dost, by the way, is a spin off of John Doe, Pakistani style.

If the governments have a local tracking system and assign ticket numbers on a case-by-case basis, they may tweet the ticket number in circumstances where a situation needs more explanation (which the 140 character-limit may not allow).

Wow. Really.

Yes, Twitter has its limits. And the effective utilization also depends on the unique nature of crises, how they are currently managed and by whom. In addition, current practices must be evaluated to see if Twitter may in fact be a worthy addition (of which I have no doubt). But integration is key!

And, at the end of the day, we have one more social medium with which to work. Twitter is great for business! If you learn to use it for crisis management, the by-product is knowing the system well enough to be able to utilize it for other purposes.

Technologies are not limited by their functionality, they are limited by how we utilize them. Functional content is king.

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About the Author…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in an Adventist hospital, I grew up in a city where on one side I experienced poverty and oppression, while on the other I had the good fortune of Tabish Bhimani being a member of an upper middle-class business family...more...

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