Social media replaced the church as the place many Christchurch people went to for support after the region's earthquakes, a University of Canterbury lecturer says.
Dr Ekant Veer, a senior lecturer in marketing, said Christchurch residents turned to social media for help and information after all of Canterbury's major earthquakes.
Veer will be part of a panel discussing the issue at the week-long Australasian natural hazards conference, which officially opens at the university today.
More than 250 experts, researchers, and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and government officials will attend the conference.
Veer monitored social media sites like Twitter and Facebook after the region's major quakes, and found people would use them to let others know they were safe and to receive messages of support from around the world.
Community halls and churches were the traditional spots for people to rally after a major crisis, but in Christchurch, many of those buildings were destroyed or deemed unsafe.
Many people then used social networking sites to pass on practical information, including locations for fresh water and food, but the sites were also used as a means of sharing support, he said.
"Social media has a very functional purpose, but beyond that, it's also become extremely valuable for keeping a community together and bringing people together.''
Earthquake-related Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups became less prominent as the quakes subsided, but reformed "very quickly'' when a new shake was felt, Veer said.
''We found many people who were not avid tweeters or Facebook users are now heavier users of the platforms after the quakes, so will likely be more quick to use them again in the case of another crisis, whether it is natural or otherwise.''
Veer said much of what was reported by traditional news media immediately after a quake had already been discussed on Twitter and it almost became a case of traditional media summarising the various tweets, rather than offering anything new.
Traditional news media would always be important for distributing information to the public, but it was not being used for immediate and timely updates.
That was where social media excelled, Veer said.