25 Mar 2015
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Facebook proves a winner during Cyclone Pam

By Shannon Williams

Social media proved a winner for Bay of Plenty Civil Defence during Cyclone Pam’s visit.

The organisation’s Facebook page membership soared 196% from the previous week’s 1500 ‘likes’, with a total of 4,767 followers by the time Cyclone Pam moved offshore. And it wasn’t just those followers reached with each post – total reach was 93,845 people.

Group Controller Clinton Naude says 73% of those who were following the posts were women, most aged between 25 and 44, but with strong numbers in the 15 to 24 year olds and over 55s as well. The male demographic showed a similar spread.

“While the majority of those who visited the page lived in New Zealand, and most of those within the region, a surprisingly large number were checking in from Australia, the UK and other countries, including USA, South Africa, Canada, Germany, Philippines, Thailand and the Netherlands,” Naude says. 

“That shows the spread of nationalities living in the Bay, and where their families and friends are checking in from.”

The regular posts throughout the weekend were shared more than 1,500 times, with a total of about 123,000 clicks on posts. Before Pam was due to arrive the Civil Defence team provided regular updates on how to prepare and reminders about what should be in an emergency kit, where to pick up sandbags and who to contact with issues.

During the event itself, the team posted every couple of hours. The most popular post was at 5.32pm on Sunday when rain first began falling around the Bay. More than 3,300 people clicked on the post, and 1,600 people liked, commented or shared it. People also commented during the event how the storm was affecting their own areas and shared information.

People also stayed engaged after the storm passed, sharing photos and videos which the Civil Defence team encouraged as a record of the event.

After Pam moved on people were quick to thank the team for their Facebook efforts. Comments included: “Chur thank u all at civil defence so much value having ur fb page to turn to and thank you all for caring an sharing [sic]”, “A fine job you guys did. You were a lifeline to us all” and “thank you for all the updates. Really appreciated. You guys are magic”.

“People even suggested to others that they sign up for free text alerts and shared good advice like turning your trampoline upside down, and what schools were closed,” says Naude.

He says the team used Twitter a little during the event, but Facebook was by far the most useful place to disseminate information, along with regular media releases. Twitter was too restrictive in character count to be useful for information sharing.

“It shows that social media is a really valuable tool in the civil defence toolkit, and that as numbers grow we can use Facebook for preparations before an event as well as during one,” Naude explains.

“We hope that these new Facebook followers will keep up with our posts after events, and that Facebook can continue to be a useful avenue to keep people informed. We’ll always want more people to like our page.”

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