Social Media Monitoring in Humanitarian Crises: Lessons Learned from the Nepal Earthquake

A family beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. Photo: ADB on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo: ADB on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Following the earthquake in Nepal, the UN’s Resident Coordinator’s Office suggested to monitor social media to get a better idea of what people in Nepal really thought about the aid they were receiving and whether there were any issues with accessing aid.

Obviously this was in addition to traditional methods, such as surveys, but the idea was to see what people were saying when talking among themselves, rather than when a person who has an agency-logo on his/her shirt is asking them.

To implement this project, ACAPS asked me to help their team in Nepal set up a system to monitor social media as well as traditional media over a period of three months. The lessons learned document from that project has now been published. You can download the document here and read what has worked and what hasn’t.

The document also explains briefly, how useful the different software platforms were that we used for this project, i.e.: Flipboard, Mention, Geofeedia and Crimson Hexagon.

Key findings from the report:

  • Monitoring of social media conversations in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake was found mainly to be useful in two ways:
  1. Analysing public reactions to media reports: The data enabled the team and clients to see which issues were widely discussed, and whether these conversations led to sustained discussion or merely short-term spikes.
  2. Seeing the relative prevalence of topics and identifying changes: Where a pure quantitative analysis can only show that a certain area of discussion is gaining or losing volume, a qualitative analysis was able to identify which sub-topics gained importance. For example, a shift in conversation from response-related topics towards reconstruction.
  • Social media monitoring was not useful in breaking down needs geographically. The digital divide between rural and urban populations, as well as between different socio-economic groups, led to a bias in the data.
  • The social acceptability of topics plays an important role in the scope of possible analysis: while queries related to issues such as shelter or food returned results of consistently high quality, some WASH, protection and health issues could not be easily monitored as they were not discussed publicly.
  • Social media monitoring in a rapid-onset emergency should start as soon as possible to provide the most benefit to decision makers, since the volume of social media updates is largest in the first days of the emergency.
  • It is vital to have qualified, computer-literate national staff who are familiar with social media, the local media landscape, the local geography, and basic information management techniques. A social media expert should be deployed on-site during the first phase to set up and customise the systems, help train staff, and increase awareness of the possibilities and limitations of analysis.
  • Social media monitoring could provide significant value to decision makers in contexts where humanitarian access is poor, the information landscape is fragmented, and social media is widely used. But more information is needed to develop more generalised recommendations regarding where social media can add the most value. Additional pilots would be useful in building on the lessons learned during the Nepal project.
  • Like all other forms of assessment, social media monitoring alone cannot provide a comprehensive overview of needs or opinions. It is just one piece of the analysis puzzle, and knowing the limitations and bias within social media data is essential.

Do you have thoughts or feedback on the report? Please leave a comment!

One Response

  1. Patricia October 13, 2015