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Social media becoming vital in crises

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Here’s a topical article by Caitlin McNamara on the increasing value of social media in a crisis.

In the wake of the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and a following tsunami, many took out their phones to call their loved ones but soon found out that the lines were down. So what was next? Social media, of course.
Under one hour after the earthquake devastated Japan, Google launched their Person Finder application on their homepage. The Person Finder was built by the Google Crisis Response team, which is made up of a philanthropic group under the Google umbrella. The Person Finder is an interactive database in English and Japanese that allows users to search for missing persons online or submit information about people who are injured or are missing. To date, there are approximately 7,200 records being tracked on Person Finder. Not only is this database being used for the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, but was also used for the Haiti earthquake and the Christchurch earthquake.
Twitter, with an estimated 10 million active users in Japan, spiked with Japanese related hashtags, such as #prayforJapan, #Fukushima and #Sundai. #TokyoDisneyland also soon shot up in the trending list as a TwitPic was released of Japanese tourists sitting in the middle of the earthquake at Disneyland. Many people have also used Twitter to state their grief for those in Japan as well as their concerns on other aspects of the disaster. 
While Facebook is one of the top social media outlets in the world, its popularity has not translated equally in Japan. Similar to Facebook is the social media outlet, Mixi, which is Japan’s largest social network. However, many Americans overseas in Japan have utilized Facebook to spread a mass note to their family and friends letting them know that they are alive and well.
Lastly, mobile networks such as AT&T have begun using text messaging to help raise funds. AT&T wireless customers can text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to give a $10 donation to help Red Cross with disaster relief support. No text message fees will apply. This offer lasts until March 31. 
As more and more reports are released on the aftermath of the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan, many will continue to use social media as a way to communicate not only their locations, but also as a way to vent their frustrations and grieve their losses. Social media has become a way to spread awareness throughout the world in a matter of seconds. We will continue to look to social media as an up to the minute resource on the Japanese disaster, and we will all continue to pray for #Japan.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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