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The Southeast Asian region has the third largest, and the most active, social media users in the world, as stated in We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Digital Report 2021. Countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam can be found in the top ten Facebook nations across the world. Such data confirms that social media forms a significant part of Southeast Asian daily life, as residents turn to social media for many reasons, and in particular to obtain information.

When disaster strikes, social media becomes one of the key outlets for public information access. Depending on the type and scale of a disaster, most people have limited access to other information outlets such as television or radio. However, as social media applications are available on most mobile phones and can work with a limited phone plan, they often form the only information source available during and directly after a disaster.



Firstly, in the mitigation phase, social media can help disseminate messages and engage public in discussion about disaster and development issues within the community. With the right social media analytics, a humanitarian organisation can identify target sections of an audience within the wider community on social media. Some mitigation messages on social media could be delivered to sections of the community who are not impacted when a disaster occurs, while mapping vulnerable communities, sending them messages directly via social media, and involving them in the conversation forms a more effective option.


Secondly, in the preparedness phase, social media can facilitate messages to educate the general public on how to respond and recover from a disaster. Social media tools such as multimedia, interactivity, and narrowcast make it an ideal place for educational videos and infographics, or even a strong short message to promote what to do when disaster occurs. Social media users tend to remember and would likely share strong hashtags or educational entertainment videos within their social networks. In this phase, it is also important to integrate social media messages with other outlets, or integrate social media messages from different stakeholders.


Third, in the response phase, social media has played a significant role as an immediate information outlet. This is the phase where information floods through social media, including messages to report a disaster, details to understand the impact of a disaster, and communication to look for missing family members or to seek help. In this phase, a well-trained social media specialist who understands social network analysis can help map the crisis based on social media posts. This skill is important to understand not only the spread of information during a disaster, but also to identify the impacted communities and their needs. Mapping out communities on social media can also help estimate assistance and aid they require, as well as the allocation of support effectively. In this phase, data visualisation may work best compared to other forms of communication.


During the recovery phase social media can facilitate messages related to government assistance, fundraising and donations from global audiences, as well as the recovery plan. Research on the usage of social media and smartphone apps by Zhang et. Al. (2014) in China during a major air pollution crisis showed that people also go to social media to look for physical and psychological well-being support. In coping with stress and loss because of disaster, victims use social media as a place to look for emotional support from their social network,s or support from communities and humanitarian organisations.

To strategically plan social media educational campaigns or crisis communication during a disaster, humanitarian organisations need to understand several aspects of social media.

  • First of all, audiences in each country have their own preferred social media platforms and behaviour. This is important to understand before selecting a social media platform and creating messages.
  • Second, each social media platform has its own unique features that can support different types of messages. Some platforms are more suitable for educational messages, but other platforms may be better for facilitating awareness and response.
  • Last but not least, a different phase of disaster has a different range of time to respond. Humanitarian organisations must establish standard operational procedures for their social media communication strategy, especially during the response phase.


Written by : Ika K. Idris, PhD
Ika K. Idris is the Director of Research of Paramadina Public Policy Institute/PPPI at Universitas Paramadina, Jakarta. She specialises in social media analytics and public communication.