The Power of Social Media

Posted on: February 2, 2016

In my upcoming Prepper’s Communication Handbook, I talk a little bit about using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to keep in touch with loved ones during a crisis as well as using such sites for gathering intelligence about the situation at hand. Despite the popularity of such sites, there are many people who shun them, thinking their sole use is to spread funny cat pictures like some sort of online STD. The reality is that social media is, or can be, whatever you decide to use it for.

I was reminded of the power of social media this past weekend. Late last week, my wife and I learned there was a candlelight hike scheduled at a state park about an hour away from where we live. It was mentioned on the state park system website and someone had even made an “event page” for it on Facebook. They planned to have a 2 mile stretch of trail lit up with candles, as well as charcoal grills set up for those who wanted to use them and hot chocolate for everyone. We made plans with our neighbors to tag along with us. I also made arrangements to hook up with my buddy Daryl Halseth from DragonFire Tinderbox at the event.

The event was slated to run 5:30PM-9:00PM and we arrived to the area around 6PM. I say “area” because traffic was backed up a couple of miles from the park entrance. We could have easily turned around at several points while we crawled along but we wanted to see how this was going to play out. As we got closer to the gate, we found out that the event page on Facebook was indicating upwards of 10,000 people were planning to attend. By way of comparison, this candlelight hike normally draws a crowd of about 250 or so.

We finally reached the gate and found two squad cars there with rangers waving people on, saying the event had been closed. We decided we’d just continue on and go out to dinner somewhere. The interstate highway was just about a mile down the road and we were an exit away from a wide range of restaurants and shopping outlets. As I hit the on ramp, we could see traffic going the other direction was backed up for easily a couple of miles.

Once we reached the restaurant, we found we weren’t the only folks who had that idea. It was kind of fun monitoring the ratio of hiking boots to dress shoes among the people who came in the door looking for dinner. It was easily three to one in favor of hikers.

Naturally, the comments on Facebook were just flying non-stop, with most commenters lambasting the park for “poor planning” and such. The reality was, and this was pointed out several times, the park wasn’t responsible for the huge turnout. The several thousand people who arrived were there because that one “event page” on Facebook had gone viral, a page that hadn’t even been created by anyone affiliated with the park system.

Think about this. One woman created a single page on Facebook. She did so quite innocently, merely wanting to share the details of this event with family and friends. But, that one page, that one post, resulted in several thousand people altering their plans and all showing up at this one location. That’s pretty powerful, my friends.

We routinely hear stories similar to this, where the power of social media was harnessed for a good cause, such as locating the owner of a found wedding band or finding a long-lost sibling. But, have you thought about how that power can help during a crisis? Social media could be an excellent option for maintaining communication with family and friends, letting them know you are okay or if you need help.

I can already hear the comments from the peanut gallery about the necessity of technology being up and running in order for social media to work. Yeah, I get it, EMP and other types of disasters could make social media a thing of the past. Here’s the thing. I’m not about to completely disregard an option just because it might not work in a relatively narrow set of circumstances. I mean, social media will work just fine in the vast majority of common disasters. I’m also not saying it should be your only communication tool, either. Rather, social media is just one item in the toolbox.

Think about it like this. A chainsaw won’t work without fuel but that doesn’t mean we should just forget about using them at all because someday there might come to pass a crisis that dries up our supply of gasoline.

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