Social networks are profoundly changing the way we receive and react to news about disasters around the world.

In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti in January, the response on Twitter provided a “textbook example” of how people use social media as a community to share information about a crisis, provide solutions to help and promote awareness about what is happening on the ground, said Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross at Buzz2010.

Harman, who leads the Red Cross’s social-media efforts, said she faced tremendous challenges after the earthquake in Haiti. Harman and her team found success in a number of efforts, including a text campaign (“text ‘Haiti’ to 90999“) that allowed donors to give $10 to Red Cross relief efforts by charging the donation to their cell-phone bills. But she said her greatest takeaway from the event was a realization as to how people in affected areas used social media in the midst of a major tragedy.

Unlike during past emergencies, people on the ground in Haiti used Twitter, Facebook, and other social tools to call for help, advertise their location and let friends and loved ones know about their condition and safety. This provided a huge “wake-up call” to the Red Cross, Harman said, because even though the organization could see these messages, it had no means to effectively use the information and act on them.

What changes the game:

  • In a recent Red Cross survey on social media, 74% of the more than 1,000 respondents noted that they would expect cries for help made on social mediums to be answered within an hour. At this time, however, there is no effective means of providing this kind of response.

Next steps for the Red Cross:

For more insight from Harman on the Red Cross and its use of social media in disaster response, check out this video of her talk at Buzz2010:

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Wendy spoke on Tuesday, July 20, about social media and risk as part of our Buzz2010 event series in Washington, D.C. The final session of the series is Wednesday, Aug. 18, on social media and return on investment, with Olivier Blanchard. Space is limited, so sign up here.

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14 Responses to “Responding to disaster 2.0: Haiti's "wake-up call" for the Red Cross”

  1. Wendy Harman says:

    Thank you Emily!

    • EmilyMolitor says:

      Thank YOU Wendy. We are all interested to hear how this week goes as you work to develop the techology and tools to effectively deal with disasters in the social age. Hope the conference goes well!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SmartBrief on SocMed and SmartBrief, Emily Molitor. Emily Molitor said: Responding to disaster 2.0: Haiti’s “wake-up call” for the @RedCross: http://ow.ly/2o7UW Thanks @wharman! #socialmedia [...]

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ana Hoffman, RT17. RT17 said: Responding to disaster 2.0: Haiti's "wake-up call" for the Red Cross http://ow.ly/18wLnl [...]

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  8. [...] consumers, but sometimes it can be even more important than that. In a new post on SmartBlog, an interview with Wendy Harmon at American Red Cross reveals how social media has become the difference between life and death during disasters such as [...]

  9. [...] experience in Haiti. Wendy Harman (@wharman), Social Media Manager for the Red Cross, said recently at SmartBlog on Social Media that Haiti was a “wake up call” because it showed them that people were turning to [...]

  10. [...] experience in Haiti. Wendy Harman (@wharman), Social Media Manager for the Red Cross, said recently at SmartBlog on Social Media that Haiti was a “wake up call” because it showed them that people were turning to [...]

  11. Gerald Ruby says:

    There are many women in Nigera, representing themselves as Red Cross Nurses. They are actually with the dating service Mate1. They have usually have U.S. addresses on Mate1. When you contact them, most are in Nigeria, claiming to be with the Red Cross. Some have also claimed to be with the U.S. Navy.
    What they turn out to be, when contacted, are internet scammers. It seems to be a well organized operation.
    I'm pretty sure, professional writers, put together their correspondence, especially e-mails. I resent sleeze-bags like this representing themselves as members of this wonderful organization, which I one volunteered for, or affiliated with the U.S. military. i don't know what, if anything, can be done about it, but I thought the Red Cross should know about it.

  12. Rebekah says:

    Too bad there is the additional problem for the Red Cross of abuse of whatever system they setup. Lots of fake text-to-help numbers and frankly, too many legit groups vying for attention.

  13. [...] Responding to disaster 2.0: Haïti’s “wake-up call” for the Red Cross (SmartBlog on Social Media, met video van interview met Wendy Harman, Social Media Manager, 11 augustus 2010) [...]