The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 has again highlighted the increasing role of social media channels in major emergencies. Like the 2009 earthquake in China or the Southern California wildfires, information on Haiti is being disseminated through Twitter and Facebook, among other new media sources. In many ways these aren’t channels that replace traditional methods of communication. Rather think about them as channels that can be used to transmit information directly from those who are experiencing the catastrophe in real time, to those who can do things to help in real time, without editing or delay. In addition many traditional news organizations like The New York Times, CNN.com and National Public Radio also use Twitter to publicize their usual news stories and provide up-to-date information.
Lisa Qualls, LightThread’s chief development officer and current president of social media club, Kansas City, was recently interviewed by Action News on the topic.
These new channels have advantages and disadvantages. The information that is sent is fast and real-time. Because it is unfiltered it can also be misleading and incomplete. Balancing traditional and social information sources provides the best comprehensive approach whether one is mobilizing help, sending information to sources of aid, or simply keeping up to date on what is happening somewhere.
Besides communication social media is also being used to raise funds for disaster relief. Celebrities are using social media to publicize their giving efforts and Wyclef Jean’s use of Twitter through his Yele Foundation has been widely publicized. More traditional disaster relief organizations offering the ability to share their messages of giving through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and texting are also relatively new. Two examples of the latter include mGive and The Mobile Giving Foundation which are both communicating and facilitating contributions to the Red Cross for Haiti disaster relief.
Although convenient, these methods are sometimes not as quick as they seem, nor as easy. For example, the Salvation Army found that although they had received $50,000 for Haiti Relief from Canadian citizens by Thursday, two days after the disaster, three times the amount was originally sent to them through text messages, but only a third of those texting confirmed the donation with the required follow up texts; also, the process for depositing the money in Red Cross bank accounts can take up to 90 days.
A final concern associated with the newness and rapidity of social media effected contributions to disaster relief is its use by the unscrupulous to run disaster relief scams. The following tips have been offered by the FBI to assist consumers in detecting Haiti disaster relief scams:
Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
Though social media is often thought of as entertainment, a way to keep track of friends and family or as a medium used most frequently by those under 25, there are many business applications for it.
Social media includes any web site that supports social interaction like user participation or user-generated content. This includes sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Yelp, Digg, Twitter and many others. Using these sites allows businesses to interact with customers in their own domain. For a customer, this is a more natural, less intimidating way to have a conversation with a company.
Here are some of the advantages of using social media for business:
Social media is a good way to promote your business, whether it is large or small, during difficult economic times
• Most social media sites are free to use or very inexpensive. They cost less than traditional marketing or advertising, and unlike television or radio commercials or even print ads, content for social media sites can be created without the assistance of an ad agency. According to Jacob Morgan, co-founder of Mighty Mouth Media, a social media campaign can cost a fraction of what traditional advertising costs.
• It’s fast and accessible – social media is Internet based, can be updated rapidly, and can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• Large audiences already exist for YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and therefore social media market reach is much wider than local advertising
• Studies have shown that social media is more effective than traditional advertising. According to a Forrester study, Proctor & Gamble found that their http://www.beinggirl.com community for adolescent girls was 4 times more effective than television advertising for their products.
• Social media can help your business to connect with potential customers, for example, a local photographer who put his portfolio on his Facebook page gets most of his business from people looking at his work there. Since there are large communities on Facebook and MySpace already, they can be very effective channels for promotions as well as a good way to interact with customers outside of a business transaction.
It’s a great way to find useful information and connect with business resources
• There are many examples of businesses using Twitter or other social media to connect to people who have the expertise they lack. Answers can be rapidly obtained and connections made. For example recently I received this message on Twitter:
“Twitter friend @mistersterling needs real estate agent who knows Lee’s Summit area.”
A California-based real estate broker needed to find a Realtor in the Kansas City area who knew Lees Summit. Within a few hours, I had connected him with some friends on Facebook who are in the real estate business. These kinds of interactions happen every day on Twitter.
• On LinkedIn, the online work profile and resume site, people can create groups focused on special topics like entrepreneurship or job hunting, ask questions of these networks and use them to organize events, among other things.
It’s an excellent way to monitor how your business is doing.
• Twitter can be used to check customer sentiment. Well known examples include companies like Comcast which looks for bad customer experiences using Twitter and solves customer problems.
• Social media monitoring tools like Spiral16’s Spark platform or Infegy’s Social Radar, are available to enable a business to monitor customer sentiment through “chatter” on social media sites and blogs.
• Rather than simply reacting (oftentimes much too late to change perception) when the feedback that a customer has had a bad experience finally reaches you through word-of-mouth, a business can proactively manage its reputation interacting directly with customers; this allows you to fix a bad customer experience before it is virally spread everywhere.
Social media is a good way to differentiate your business
• Traditional marketing is about “positioning,” and many people have grown to distrust it because they consider it a company, rather than customer perspective.
• On the other hand, the key to successfully using social media is to be yourself. The more authentic you are the more customers will trust you. The more they trust you the more they will recommend you. Third party recommendations are a powerful way to attract new customers.
• As companies develop reputations for not being in tune with customers, the ones who use social media reap large rewards:
• President Barack Obama has been credited with a very skillful use of social media during his election campaign. He has over six million fans on Facebook, more than anyone else and was active on Twitter during his campaign.
• Zappos has a very loyal customer base. CEO Tony Hsieh’s amiable style and personal response to customer problems on Twitter has made it one of the most successful dotcom companies with an enviable reputation with customers.
• Whole Foods considers it’s broad use of social media sites like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook a key part of it’s marketing strategy. They have increased the buzz about the company, helped create a positive feedback loop and made customers more aware of its passion for community involvement. For individuals, especially ones who have been laid off, social media can help increase the size your personal network, connect with companies that are hiring and find new jobs.
• Placement agencies will tell you that most people who are laid-off from jobs find new ones using their personal networks, rather than though blindly sending resumes in response to job postings.
• Business social media sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo enable people to post information about job history, form groups that are focused on specific industries or professions and ask questions to people who might be able to assist with a job search.
• There are many companies, including executive recruiters who routinely look for people with certain skillsets by first messaging their Twitter or LinkedIn networks.
What are some of the barriers to companies using social media effectively?
• Many companies still don’t have a social media strategy today. Conversations about your company will occur whether you have a strategy or not. However, you have the option to either participate in these conversations or to not participate. Not participating means you aren’t managing your reputation during those conversations.
• Social media is different than traditional advertising and marketing so companies have to change their thinking about it to use it effectively. Many companies still believe in tightly controlling their communications, including identifying precisely who can represent the company and what can or cannot be said by a company representative. Social media is most effective when company representatives are allowed to be themselves. Avoid using social media as a channel for traditional “positioning” marketing messages. People see through blatant self-promotion on sites like Facebook and Twitter and don’t like it. Be authentic. Don’t be afraid of interacting with customers at their level.
• Not having defined policies around social media use or prohibiting it entirely. Rather than barring any use, it is much more effective to define the rules around the use of social media, accept that there needs to be some freedom associated with this method of communicating with customers and enabling employees to work within them.
• Not ensuring that there are clear metrics associated with social media campaigns. Since social media is all about engagement, there are many cases where it is easier to measure success than with a traditional ad. Engagement is directly connected to behavior and is more relevant to a specific outcome than traditional advertising’s more passive activities like watching or reading an ad. Failure to establish success metrics will compromise the effectiveness of social media efforts.
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The first StartUp Weekend Kansas City was held at the end of April. Founded by Andrew Hyde, StartUp Weekend has been hosted by over 20 cities around the world since its inception. The Kansas City event, organized by Dan Melton and his dot Next crew, drew over 75 people for fifty hours of brainstorming, business plan creation and coding. Nine concepts were launched including the overall winner of the pitch session, Activism2Go. We pitched an idea that ultimately became TopChirp, a rating site for the microblogging site Twitter.
From concept development to completed code, the effort to develop this application took less than 50 hours. The end result? A working application that allows users to “chirp” tweets that they find interesting. Tweets that are chirped, or rated highly, are then presented on the www.topchirp.com website, much like content that is given a “thumbs-up” on Digg is presented on Digg.com. An easy-to-use application programming interface allows third parties that are developing Twitter clients to easily incorporate TopChirp rating capability in their own applications.
We are excited about TopChirp and the team that formed over StartUp Weekend has already made plans to continue to enhance the application even as we refine its business plan.
It has been reported that although StartUp Weekend events are popular, few of the applications that are develop maintain a long existence or raise appreciable money.
We think that such concern is misguided. StartUp Weekend serves an important role in the startup community–that of connecting business development experts, designers and developers. The networks that are formed can be powerful ones for catalyzing the growth of new business opportunities in a given community. We feel privileged that we were able to meet so many talented people in just a few days, some of whom traveled from as far as Great Britain.
If there is a StartUp Weekend in your city, we highly recommend the experience!