While there is much discussion regarding the use of social media for crowdsourcing during humanitarian crises, there are other relevant applications of social media analysis and engagement on an ongoing basis. But first, some assumptions need to be addressed – namely that there is little use of social media by non-elites in developing nations. Such an assumption has lead to some missed opportunities and more based on some of our research.
Often, in developing nations, social media services are accessed through mobile phones, either by texting to a social network or accessing it directly through an app on the phone. Non-elites or general society often access the Internet and social media services through Internet cafe’s or buying from an individual who has set up a private ISP service from their home. In our research projects in Sudan, Haiti, Benin, DRC, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries we estimated Internet use by the general population (non-elites) was on average, 43% higher than official estimates taken from reporting ISP’s in the country.
By researching and analysing social media usage by civil society (both non-state organisational actors and individuals) aid agencies, governments helping in reconstruction or aid and other organisations, can gain some key insights into topical issues. They may identify areas where aid isn’t reaching or be able to better define political atmospherics, new groups to engage with and more meaningful dialogue opportunities.
These are but some of the benefits to researching and understanding the engagement of civil society in social media today. Others become apparent when research is undertaken and aid organisations or governments can enhance their digital and public diplomacy activities.