Media companies should act as community hubs in times of crisis

By Rebecca Alter


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


When a global emergency strikes, panic, dread, and hopelessness can quickly settle across the world, worsening the quality of life for entire populations. And lately, it seems as though people have had to face one never-ending crisis after another.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs forecasts 274 million people will need humanitarian aid and protection in 2022 alone.

In times of crisis, people seek access to communities. Media companies can foster that space.
In times of crisis, people seek access to communities. Media companies can foster that space.

What many media companies don’t realise is that they have the power to help some of these people in times of crisis. In fact, media companies can offer significant support to populations simply by acting as online hubs for communities to gather during an emergency or tragedy.

The importance of community intensifies during a crisis

During stable times, online communities bring like-minded people together, encouraging meaningful connections to form between active members, which grows loyalty toward the host brand.

Meanwhile, the value of hosting a safe online community in a crisis goes far beyond growing brand loyalty. Giving audiences access to a tight-knit community can reverse declining mental health and support them in their time of need:

“[If] community members let their feelings of fear, anxiety, confusion, and dread grow unchecked during a crisis, they will most likely begin to feel hopeless or helpless … [causing them to] be less motivated and less able to take actions that could help themselves,” according to a crisis and emergency risk communication manual from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Helping the public feel empowered and in control of at least some parts of their lives may … reduce fear.”

So, by providing people with a safe space to join an active community, your media organisation can allow people to feel more in control and confident during a chaotic period.

Offering stability in a world of constant change

From global warming disasters to the war in Ukraine, economic, social, and ecological conditions worldwide are unstable. Online communities encourage members to check in on their conversations regularly, giving people a sense of routine or stability.

“Routines can create a positive level of stress that keeps us focused and may avoid some of the depression that many people may experience as a result of … isolation, fear and uncertainty,” said Ramon Solhkhah, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Ultimately, chatting with fellow community members frequently can help to give life meaning, make people feel more productive and improve mental health in a time of uncertainty and fear. Any media company can deliver this type of experience to audiences simply by giving people access to safe community social spaces.

Shaping safe online spaces for sharing thoughts and opinions

Media organisations that give people safe digital spaces to meet and talk empower users to share their voices, thoughts, and opinions around whatever crisis is at hand. This can help spark social change and heal traumatised or struggling community members.

According to a series of researchers around the world, “[online] communities (OCs) offer the ground for breeding activism as they provide opportunities for individuals who, regardless of their location, voluntarily form a social aggregation through an online platform for sharing interests, knowledge, and experiences.”

Unfortunately, thanks to the rise of trolls and misinformation, social media platforms don’t guarantee safe conditions for these positive, shared social experiences. After all, more than 25% of people will avoid joining a discussion if toxicity is present.

To successfully promote community-wide healing, awareness, and change, media companies must give people access to positive community social spaces on their own properties. That way, they can control the tone and quality of conversations.

Connecting people to sources of reliable information

Between political extremists and Russian troll farms publishing propaganda across the Web, it can be challenging for humans to determine fact from fiction in a crisis. At least it is without a reliable news source.

And with 56% of Americans concerned that journalists consciously publish misinformation or exaggerations, publishers must work to connect people to accurate content.

One major benefit of hosting an online community on a media company’s Web site or app is that its credible content becomes central to that community. More specifically, audience members will gradually form connections around accurate information, which can save lives by keeping people informed throughout a crisis.

Plus, community hubs allow people to discuss and debate the true actions of governments and come up with potential solutions to global emergencies or challenges.

It’s only natural to want to assist others in an emergency. By bringing people together online, your media company can give people an outlet for support during challenging times. Not only will this enable you to deliver essential information to loyal audiences, it will also show them they aren’t alone — reinforcing their resilience in the face of any crisis.

About Rebecca Alter

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