Are Social Media Influencers the Next Answer to Disaster Relief?

Guest post authored by Colleen Patterson, content marketing manager for Muses

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Two days after sitting down to write this post, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on southeast Texas as a Category 4 storm.

Category 4 storms, by definition bring winds which range from 131 to 155 mph, the capability to destroy house frames and cause long-standing power outrages in addition to a host of other infrastructural damage.

Right away, the residents of Houston took to Twitter — for help.

When local 9-11 lines choke, the internet stays open.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

“One Facebook user said there was water in her Houston apartment, and published her full address with apartment number. Another said a friend in Corpus Christi, Texas, needed baby food and formula and the power was out. The user said her friend received help, but declined to be quoted.”

It’s nothing novel.

Twitter may not have been around during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the iPhone was a figment of the future but by the time Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, millions of American were primed to use their smartphones to locate loved ones, solicit donations, and offer encouragement to one another.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wrote in its 2013 National Preparedness report that during and immediately following Hurricane Sandy, “users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm.”

Facebook took notice and by the next year, launched a safety-check tool. As of 2014 users are able to mark themselves as safe and share other location-specific information.  On Friday, as Harvey hit, Facebook activated the tool.

You can actually view a map of requests for help and offers to assist.  So where do social media influencers come into play?

First, let’s not that there is a downside to the immediacy of social media in response to natural disaster: the accidental spread of misinformation and the spread of too much.

As disaster sociologist Jeannette Sutton told Scientific American, “Tweets flow so quickly it’s like a fire hose where you’re trying to extract bits of information that are relevant.”

FEMA’s Rumor Control attempts to curb the spread of misinformation, but it can only affect so much. That said, rather than spread information, social media influencers can raise awareness and encourage their followers to make a donation.

On Tuesday Facebook it would match Harvey disaster relief funds raised by its users up to $1 million. Anyone can donate through the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Facebook page.

When disaster strikes, the need isn’t limited to immediate relief or search and rescue efforts.  The need for social media aid extends to reparation and re-building. Fundraising lies at the heart of disaster relief and that’s exactly where social media influencers can make a huge difference.

Just imagine if someone with 100K followers got 10% of their audience to donate $1. Can you imagine the positive impact $10K would make? It would help rebuild a neighborhood.

There are times in which brand identity suddenly becomes secondary to community identity. When disaster relief is needed, it’s crucial that prominent community leaders call for solidarity and support—and solicit the help of their following. Hurricane Harvey is a textbook case.

I strongly encourage you to lend your support. Create a fundraiser today. If you’d rather give and skip the organization, sites such as CharityNavigator.org and Better Business Wise Giving Alliance do a great job of vetting charitable organizations.

The Federal Trade Commission also offers tips for those who want to give aid but are afraid of falling prey to scams.  Remember: a little will go a long way and the residents of Texas and Louisiana are anything but out of the clear!

Colleen Patterson is the content marketing manager for Muses, the only digital growth app focused on building long-term relationships. She’d love you to get involved.

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