Production and Operations Management

Social Media for Disaster Management: Operational Value of the Social Conversation

Journal Article

Disaster relief organizations increasingly engage in social conversations to inform social media users about activities such as evacuation routes and aid distribution. Concurrently, users share information such as the demand for aid, willingness to donate and availability to volunteer through social conversations with relief organizations. We investigate the effect of this information exchange on social engagement during disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. We propose that the effect of information on social engagement increases from preparedness to response and decreases from response to recovery. Some of the information exchanged in social conversations is actionable as well. We propose, however, that the effect of actionable information reaches its lowest point during disaster response. To test our theory, we use Facebook data from five benchmark organizations that responded to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We analyze all of the organizations’ posts and users’ comments during a three‐week period before, during and after Hurricane Sandy. Our findings support our theory. Furthermore, we identify an opportunity for relief organizations to improve their use of social media for disaster management. While relief organizations focus on informing disaster victims about aid distribution, most users are asking about how they as individuals can donate or volunteer. Thus, besides posting information directed to victims, organizations should post more information targeting potential donors and volunteers.

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