With 12 years experience in a number of marketing disciplines, Jenny Plant is currently working for a multi-national pharmaceutical brand, helping them to build a social media presence alongside more traditional communication channels. We asked her to give us her thoughts on the role of social media in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
With every hourly news report, the real horror and scale of the Haiti earthquake tragedy is starting to become clear. The Red Cross estimates that so far up to 50,000 have died and the number made homeless stands at 300,000. As international aid teams start to gain access and see the true extent of the devastation, these numbers are likely to grow.
As this terrible situation unfolds we are also starting to see the real pros and cons of using social media to transmit news. On the plus side, social media sites are spreading details of appeals fast and effectively. Through tweets and retweets information is being transmitted to millions at the click of a button, and status updates on Facebook are full of links to appeals by humanitarian agencies.
The Darfur and Chad crisis appeal in 2007 was the first in which web donations to the Disasters and Emergencies Committee (DEC) outstripped telephone donations. Three years on it will be interesting to find out what difference the recent explosion in social media has made in getting the developed world to put its hands in its pockets. The DEC reports today that its Haiti appeal has already raised £2m in 36 hours.
Of course there are drawbacks to the viral and uncontrollable nature of social media. In the rush by news channels to get news from Haiti, where modes of communication are now almost non-existent, photos have appeared of wreckage that has later turned out to be from another quake in Japan from 2004. The channel responsible for the image admitted they lifted it, unverified, from a social media site.
The relief effort was bound to be a trending topic on Twitter. But with all the positive tweets letting people know how to donate, a string of negative ones are also in circulation. Some claim that airlines are offering free flights to Haiti for nurses offering to help, and others report that UPS will send any package under 50lbs to Haiti for free. Both stories are made up. It’s up to other Twitter users to spread the word about these tasteless ‘jokes’ when they can, and keep the world of social media as the force for good that it can and should be.
Donate to Haiti at the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) website.