D1.3 Communication, social media and societal resilience
One of ENGAGE’s goals is to understand communication’s role, in particular social media, in building societal resilience. More broadly, the goal is to understand the public’s communication needs and expectations and their use of various communication channels to fulfill their information needs. Another part of this goal is to create guidelines and recommendations for effective communication means with impacted societies. Those who have already been impacted by a disaster or are under potential risk.
The main goal of task 1.3 is to carry out an empirical study of what citizens and social groups need and expect from authorities and first responders to improve communication and societal resilience. This task aims to present the public’s communication needs, focusing, but not exclusively, on social media and how authorities and first responders can address them better, creating more effective communication processes. Therefore, the objectives of the study are: (A) To Identify the needs and expectations in the communication process among community members and between them and authorities and first responders; (B) To identify the preferred sources for receiving information about emergencies and disasters and favored means for receiving warnings; (C) To understand the characteristics of effective communication with impacted societies and identify prominent illustrations of such communications; (D) To define the relationship between the communication process among community members and between them and authorities and first responders and its impact on societal resilience; (E) To identify the role of gender, socioeconomic status, culture, digital literacy, and other demographic variables on the abovementioned objectives.
The study of this deliverable is based on a mixed-methods approach. We conducted a secondary analysis of the survey distributed in deliverable 1.2 from eight countries (Italy, Romania, Spain, France, Sweden, Norway, Israel, and Japan). Also, we conducted a qualitative analysis of content from social media accounts of 21 accounts from 14 authorities and first responders, including user comments. In total, 440 posts and 5,250 comments were selected for analysis.
The first two research questions focused on communication needs and expectations among community members and between them and authorities and first responders. The findings showed the hierarchy of communication needs, with cognitive (M=4.3, SD=.93) and unidirectional (M=4.17, SD=.96) on top and affective (M=3.5, SD=1.03) and escapist (M=3.22, SD=1.09) on the bottom. The qualitative findings highlighted how the public’s communication needs and expectations were expressed online, revealing that some less rated needs in the survey were more dominant in practice. Especially affective and escapist needs.
The third research question examined the information sources preferred by the public. While mobile phones topped the list of preferred communication channels (M=3.94, SD=1.08), social networks (M=3.21, SD=1.28) were among the last places in most countries. The analysis showed that television (M=3.51, SD=1.19) still plays an essential role as an information source.
The analysis showed that each communication need is correlated with other information sources. As part of the fourth research question, it was shown that cognitive needs were more correlated with mobile phones (r=.42, p=.000) and unidirectional needs more with face-to-face communication (r=.32, p=.000). Escapist needs were more correlated with printed media (r=.26, p=.000) and affective needs with both mobile media and face-to-face communication (r=.38, p=.000).
Hypotheses H1, H2, H3 examined the effect of gender, socioeconomic status, and nationality (culture) on the communication needs and preferred information sources of the public. Those were partly accepted. H4 examined the effect of digital literacy on the communication needs and preferred sources and was entirely accepted. The findings showed differences regarding the needs and information sources between men and women and across countries – but not in all cases. Socioeconomic status did not explain the communication needs and expectations, but only some preferred specific information sources. Digital literacy, on the other hand, was a strong predictor in all cases. Even the strongest predictor of all.
The fifth research question examined the characteristics that contribute to effective communication with impacted societies. We suggested that a multiplex approach, integrating more than one or two groups of needs, which were identified in the study, into the messages’ design process, would contribute to the effectiveness of the process. These findings are illustrated and exemplified by several results.
The sixth research question examined the relationship between the communication process among community members and authorities and first responders. We show that the communication process between society and authorities and first responders supports the communication process among community members – and vice-versa. We illustrate the relationship between these two communication processes in all three phases of emergencies and disasters.
The findings of the study lead to several conclusions aligned with the initial objectives. The first conclusion is that authorities and first responders must address the variety of needs of the public. Even those who are not perceived as very important by the public, but findings showed that they were dominant in the electronic communications analysis in authorities and first responders’ social media accounts.
The second conclusion is that the variety of communication channels and sources is essential, with many traditional channels that are still preferred more than new media. This is important because many authorities and first responders, in recent years, started publishing more content on social media at the expense of traditional media. This study’s findings suggest reconsidering such decisions significantly since the different communication channels were correlated with other communication needs.
The third conclusion relates to the characteristics of effective communication with impacted societies. We identified effective communication characteristics by addressing the communication needs in a multiplex way: allowing the public to fulfill a comprehensive set of needs by interacting and engaging with the content, emphasizing that it is not just about the characteristics which were identified in the mixed-method analysis, but the combination between them.
The fourth conclusion refers to the relationship between the communication process among community members and between them and authorities and first responders and its impact on societal resilience. We concluded that one type of communication process facilitates the other, and it will be considered an error to focus only on one.
Last, regarding the role of gender, socioeconomic status, culture, digital literacy, the conclusion highlights the need to focus more on gender and digital literacy questions over traditional factors, such as nationality and income.
The discussion section describes in details the necessary recommendations for future WP’s and deliverables, among them, in short: For D2.4: the necessary comparison between the disaster and emergency agencies’ communication approach and guidelines and the public’s experience; For D3.1 and D3.2: the effective, less effective, and not effective characteristics of communication processes will define the criteria for promising solutions and serve as guidelines for innovative channels, including AI chatbots; For D4.1: the identified criteria of effective communication processes that can serve the initial validation process of solutions; For D5.1: use the results of this study is shaping ENGAGE’s communication and dissemination strategy; For D5.4 and D5.5: the results contribute to the website and knowledge platform of ENGAGE.