Social Media and Natural Disaster Communication & Relief

Social Media, Tools, Twitteron January 18th, 20101 Comment

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 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.
  • Facebook + FriendFeed = FaceFeed?

    Social Mediaon August 11th, 2009Comments Off on Facebook + FriendFeed = FaceFeed?


    Facebook announced today that it had acquired FriendFeed.  Multiple sources carried the news after Technorati broke it, minutes before Facebook made its own announcement.  Largely believed to be an acquisition for talent, the 12 members of the Friendfeed team include founder Bret Taylor the creator of Google Maps and Paul Buchheit, who developed Gmail.  Facebook indicated that the four Friendfeed founders would all serve as senior executives in their product and engineering departments.

    Articles have already been written about what FriendFeed brings to Facebook, including public profiles, conversations that involve people you don’t know, aggregated content from multiple sites and real time information.  Whether some of these features will continue to be supported if Friendfeed is fully incorporated into Facebook or not remains to be seen. Without question the biggest impact of this acquisition might be on Twitter.  Past analysis has shown that a majority of the content that Friendfeed aggregates is from Twitter.  Given Twitter’s very recent and very public snubbing of an acquisition offer from Facebook, is this simply the first volley in a capabilities war where Facebook will use its superior financial funding position to acquire companies that have advanced Twitter-like features so that they can eventually eliminate Twitter’s dominate position in microblogging?

    But it’s not as though Facebook should be worried.  With over 250 million users against Twitter’s 4-5 million, adding Friendfeed, a site that reached over 1 million visits earlier this year, will not make an appreciable difference in the lead it already enjoys.  In Facebook’s and Friendfeed’s press releases, in addition to talent,  shared platform and work culture philosophies were cited as reasons for the acquisition.  But what might be good for these two companies might not be good for Friendfeed users.

    Most of the feedback was negative when the deal was announced.  Indeed Friendfeed oftentimes seemed to be a haven for social media practitioners.  Prominent members of that community, including Robert Scoble, are avid users and as one commenter stated on Bret Taylor’s feed, “Uh, well that’s the end of that.”

    Friendfeed now joins Pownce as yet another Twitter-like social media service that was hyped by the “social mediarati” only to be acquired by another company with different designs on the industry.

    StartUp Weekend Kansas City & TopChirp

    Applications, Social Media, StartUps, Technology, Twitteron May 8th, 20091 Comment

    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.

    topchirplogo-1From 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 website, much like content that is given a “thumbs-up” on Digg is presented on 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!

    The Pitfalls of Inorganic Growth on Twitter

    Social Mediaon March 9th, 20095 Comments

    With the rise in Twitter usage and the publication of a plenitude of stories on influential news sources, there has been lots of guidance provided recently on how to get thousands of followers using “follower-pumping” practices. These usually recommend using “pyramid-scheme-” type tools, following people with similar interests who will follow you back, writing press releases, among other approaches. The more followers you amass, the greater the likelihood that the new people that you follow will follow you also. The use of Twitter-related rating services like Twitter Grader can also work in tandem with having a large number of followers to attract even more people, since numbers of followers is one method such tools use to calculate influence scores.

    So what is the downside to such approaches compared to getting followers organically? Getting lots of followers increases your influence, right?

    These tactics can be likened to startup companies that obtain venture capital funding early in their existence but don’t have a compelling value proposition. Just like VC funding can speed the development of promising platforms, rapidly increase a company’s market share due to spending on advertising and help a company grow rapidly in size, tactics to increase followers using schemes do work well enough to guarantee that one builds a large following.

    But what happens after that? What do you do after you get a few thousand followers? Are your tweets interesting enough or valuable enough to sustain that number? Have you interacted directly with enough of your followers that they’ll remain with you even as you focus on gaining more followers? Are you producing enough content on other channels to sustain the number of followers you’ve amassed?

    If your answer to these questions is “no” then you run the same risk as a promising startup that has created initial market momentum through outside funding, but doesn’t have a good enough product or management team to continue building profitable growth. Inevitably the funding runs out and since the company doesn’t generate enough revenue to remain profitable with a less-than-compelling product, it goes out of business. Likewise, on Twitter your followers will eventually leave you if you cannot sustain your follower count with authentic and useful interactions and you’ll be left with little credibility. Building a new audience when your reputation has been compromised is even more difficult than building that audience organically, one person at a time, through authentic and direct interaction.

    Social Media Bombs

    Social Mediaon March 9th, 2009Comments Off on Social Media Bombs

    Most social media articles cover the marketing side of social media. How marketshare can be gained, products sold, reputations built on the savvy use of web 2.0 tools. But as with any compelling new technology, this medium can also be used for other purposes. One of these is the social media bomb. Defined as a series of coordinated acts on social media networks, the social media bomb is intended to attract attention through a viral dissemination of a specific message. Recently, Amnesty International asked it’s supporters to send out a message at 1:10 p.m. on Friday, March 6 on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The message: “Each year, 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence,” was intended to raise public awareness of this issue. The results of this social media bomb are not yet known, but one can see a difference in impact between Twitter, where pages of retweets still appear and MySpace and Facebook, where nary any evidence of the message exists. Nonetheless with the profusion of social networks, and the ability to communicate on them ubiquitously, one can imagine more such awareness raising efforts in the future.

    Evaluating How to Use Twitter for Your Business?

    Social Mediaon February 18th, 2009Comments Off on Evaluating How to Use Twitter for Your Business?

    Here are some helpful articles that provide practical and detailed information regarding business use and twitter analytic capabilities:

    Looking for companies who tweet today? Here is a list of 100+ brands that are on twitter: and here is a list of how 16 companies use twitter:

    Last but not least here is a link to a wiki created by Peter Kim that is a fantastic repository of social media marketing examples: