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social media & irene

On Monday, February 13th, representatives from the state’s Community Recovery Partnership, a group formed to support the efforts of long-term recovery efforts around the state post-Irene, visited Rutland.  The point of the conversation was to “reach out and listen, help identify short and long term needs, and develop a framework to help communities emerge from this disaster stronger and more resilient.”  They were posing questions to emergency management officials, volunteers, and survivors, asking what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen in the future.

Part of this conversation focused on the flow of communication and how social media played a part immediately following Irene. Not everyone agreed with this idea; actually, as many towns and survivors did not have power, and there for could not access the Internet or charge their phones in order to find out what was going on off of their “island.”  Although people directly affected by the storm may not have been able to access the Internet, I feel it was the main form of communication for volunteers and donors.  Let’s look at a few examples of groups that used social media immediately following Irene and their influence.

#VTResponse

A true grassroots effort, VTResponse formed the day after Irene. Sarah Waterman, Matt Sisto, and Katy Kent quickly sprang into action and did what they do best; build and manage websites. Sarah had disaster relief experience, having run efforts in Biloxi, MS post Hurricane Katrina.  She also focused her master’s research on disaster preparedness and response.

#VTResponse quickly became the go to source for volunteers, organizations, and donors. People needed help, and people wanted to give help.  It became a craigslist, of sorts, of people posting what they had, or what they needed, and when the two matched up, viola! people got what they needed.

They also blew up the twittersphere; their hashtag #VTResponse being very popular even on Monday, the day after the storm. From their website: “Social media has played a huge role in the relief effort. …real-time updates of the situation across the state have been prevalent. Even Governor Shumlin has continuously updated his Twitter account throughout the storm and aftermath. By Monday evening, vtresponse.com had over 8,000 visits to the site. Two days later the site had received over 5,000 emails and 95,000 page views.”

To this day, the #VTResponse crew is active, running their exchange site and giving out information.  Visit their site, vtresponse.wordpress.com or email them vtresponse@yahoo.com if you are interested in helping or need help.

Restoring Rutland  

Ok, I am a little biased about this one. The day after Irene hit, my friend Jim Sabataso and I went out for a drink to reflect and figure out what we could do. I wanted to help get food and supplies to the “island” communities. After spending some time searching online, I found the effort that Aaron Kraus was starting to bring fellow Vermonters home for the weekend to help clean up. I contacted him and we brought our two ideas together to form what has now become “Restoring Rutland.”

From the very beginning, Restoring Rutland has relied on social media to communicate. We posted what communities were looking for in terms of supplies, and people delivered.  If we need volunteers, we posted online, and people showed up and lent a hand.

During the weeks immediately following Irene, we had over 80,000 page views on our Facebook page. Our fans came from all ages, both genders, and several countries. We have a blog, as well, that still generates traffic and dally emails to us. We still use our Facebook and Twitter accounts daily to update our followers on what is happening in post-Irene recovery.

Last, but certainly not least, I Am Vermont Strong

I am so proud of my best friend, Lyz Tomsuden. The night after the storm, she created a simple, but beautiful graphic that went viral. Her boyfriend, Eric Mallette, loaded it onto Facebook and started tagging people in it. I was on my way to work on Tuesday morning and he called me up. “Can you tag some people in that graphic?” he asked. “Every Vermonter I can.” I replied. He then asked if I thought people would buy it on a shirt if he made a few and sold them at the Farmers’ Market that following Saturday. “Sure,” I said. “I think people would love it!” He was worried that not enough people would see it before Saturday. I think we all know what happened after that.

Again, without the original graphic going viral, IAVS would not have been able to raise over $70,000. We also wouldn’t have these classy license plates that are also raising money for the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.  Plus, they look snazzy on the front of your car. (She doesn’t know it yet, but I am going to ask Lyz to autograph mine and then I am going to frame it!)

Photo by Eric Mallette.

So, what’s the lesson learned?

I heard today that some people are “afraid” or “intimidated” by social media. I know there are some negative things that happen in social media; cyber bullying, privacy issues, just to name a couple. But I have certainly seen more good than bad happen on social media, and these are just a few examples of the good to come out of social media.

So I ask you, what are your reflections of Irene? What do you think worked? What didn’t work? What needs to happen in the future? What good things have you seen happen on social media? Either post comments below or email me at localsocialvt@gmail.com.  I would love to hear what you have to share!

 

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the power of the tweet

Last week, I wrote about Twitter; what it was and how to use it effectively. The perfect example of a great social media manager appeared in front of me this morning. A real life example popped up right out of the wood work.

I was looking at my Twitter feed this morning (my personal one), and noticed a tweet from one of my friends frommy undergraduate days at Hofstra. She posted a picture that she took with her phone from a page of Newsday. They had incorrectly labeled a picture of Amber Heard as Scarlett Johansson. I had no idea who Amber Heard was (and still don’t), and tweeted back at her, commenting on the obvious mistake the paper made. She quickly responded back to me, that she also had no clue who the girl was, and perhaps made a snide comment towards the graphics person at Newsday. In all three of the tweets that I’ve mentioned so far, Newsday’s Twitter username, @Newsday, was mentioned (therefore, tagged and received notifcation that we were discussing them). They almost immediately responded to our tweets and fixed the issue that my friend Tara had pointed out minutes before. See a full list of the conversation and images below:

Content from Twitter. Screenshots assembled from the tweets of @ordinary_girl84, @mungerette, and @Newsday.

I was very impressed with this whole exchange. Tara and I were talking pretty candidely about the mistake that Newsday had made, but not degrading them. We just were commenting on the situation and were a little surprised that the photo could have been labeled incorrectly. Now, I can’t tell if they fixed this earlier than Tara had pointed it out (which is entirely possible), and just didn’t point out the mistake themselves until they realized readers were noticing. But what I am impressed with, is the extent to which their social media manager was paying attention to their mentions and responding to them.  Actually, if you go to their Twitter page, you will see that they are very good about engaging their readers. Their page is full of tweets of stories, yes, but also responding to readers and retweeting followers tweets.

All businesses/organizations should engage users like this. This is one of the main ideas that I should have covered last week: the difference between Facebook and Twitter etiquette. The main difference between these two different platforms is on Facebook, pages do not want to over post.  It is completely possible to overpost and depending upon what kind of business you have, and what is going on in your community would determine an appropriate amount of posts per week. For example, a news source, such as the Rutland Herald or WCAX should post top stories and important news throughout the day. A retail shop, for example, should post at most two or three times a day, and space them appropriately. Now, during Tropical Storm Irene, and the time immediately following, many pages posted multiple times a day, such as Restoring Rutland, I Am Vermont Strong, and Vermont Emergency Management. These organizations/groups were incredibly active and trying their hardest to get all information out that they could. This was incredibly appropriate. On a normal basis, however, Facebook posting should be very pointed and planned. Facebook users are incredibly active and are quick to “un-like” a page due to over posting.

On the other hand, Twitter etiquette is much different. Many entities on the site post multiple times a day, sometimes a minute, and are praised for it, not chastised. I think this stems from part of Twitter’s function and layout. Since they allow only 140 characters a tweet and don’t have additional apps or all the “extras” that make Facebook “busy,” this allows a user to focus on their feed and the feeds of people or other groups that they are interested in. I am not in any way demeaning the use of Facebook, because they definitely have a huge fan base, and the benefits of being active and on Facebook can easily be evaluated and reaped. Twitter just allows you to present the same information, and more information, in a different format that is more susceptible for this information to be shared and absorbed by the followers.

The downside of Twitter in our local area at this time? Users. Although many organizations are on Twitter, it seems that there currently is not a clear way to find these pages. The best way to have local users find you, is by using the local Rutland hashtag (again, a hashtag is a way of organizing and categorizing tweets) which is #rutvt. This can be used for anything that is happening in the local area, and I would go as far to say the county. When you are talking about your business, or talking about some event or commenting on something that is going on in the area, use the hashtag. Then, you should search for the hashtag and see what other pages and people are using it and talking about the area on Twitter.  I think you will actually be surprised about the number of users in the county.

Use your social media platforms well! Please make sure to understand the etiquette of each platform, as they certainly differ, or else you run the risk of putting a lot of work in to your social media management, and will not see a lot of return. Remember: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” (Scott Cook)

 

 

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the long, dreary road ahead.

We are not out of the woods yet.

 

I had the opportunity to drive on Route 4 from Rutland right through Woodstock on the 16th of September. I felt several different emotions that day as I drove by the river.

 

It was shocking to see the damage the water had done in person. I have driven up and down Route 4 so many times throughout my life, always taking the view for granted. Now, looking over the embankment where the trees used to be, honestly brought tears to my eyes. But do you know what quickly made me smile? Watching the road crews work.

 

We have all driven through construction zones where the road is being worked on, or a bridge is being repaired. This was different. I am not saying that these road crews do not typically have a good work ethic. I am saying that they were carrying their emotion in a fashion that was motivating them; inspiring them, to use an artist’s touch with every placement of a piece of gravel or a section of guardrail. These workers are residents of the “island” communities, family members of those residents, friends of them…

 

I went to a conference in Manchester, New Hampshire that day. On my return, I not only noticed more devastating damage and loss, but I noticed that an incredibly long stretch of guardrail had been completed since I had driven by earlier. And although it was well past 6 pm, the crews were still working.

 

How amazing it is to think that they were able to build a road in less than 3 weeks where there was nothing but a hole previously.

 

It is great that we are able to travel on Route 4. It is great that residents are slowly being able to feel “free” to travel and go to work again. But I fear we have a long road ahead of us, and it is one we have to build as we move forward.

 

I was speaking to Kara from Evening Song Farm this weekend at the Downtown Farmer’s Market. Evening Song was hit hard by Irene (you can view pictures and video here: www.eveningsongcsa.com). Kara was obviously sad (how could she not be?) but she was surprisingly slightly upbeat. She felt and had experienced the embrace of our kind, generous community and was very moved. When I asked her what Restoring Rutland could do to help, she said they aren’t ready for volunteers yet. It wasn’t until this moment during our conversation that the reality hit me; we are going to be working for a long time. A lot of you are saying, “Duh!” to me right now, but think about your perspective of the situation. How hard were you directly affected by the storm? Did you volunteer for a few hours, or a week of time, to help out your neighbor or a local organization? People lost everything in the flood and can’t rebuild overnight.

 

What I am trying to say is, yes, I realized and knew that the road in front of us will be long and dreary. But what I am asking is for everyone to stay passionate. Stay selfless. Keep offering to help. Keep donating whatever you are able. But please, do not give up. Do not forget as roads are rebuilt and you can go back to your normal way of life, that Vermont still needs your help, and will continue to need help. Something as simple as offering to babysit your neighbors’ children to give them a night off from rebuilding can go a long way. Do what you can to help your fellow Vermonters as they have helped you in the past, and will surely help you in the future.

 

I don’t mean to be “preachy” in these posts, I just ask you to please continue to think about the destruction of Irene and the long road we need to work together to build.

 

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Ode to the Sabataso Family.

In my post the other day, I spoke about how Vermonters are raised to give a hand without being asked. If anyone in Rutland County exemplifies this notion, it is the Sabataso family.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Sabatasos (some of you avid Express readers already have some insight.) John and Jeri have four wonderful kids; Janice, Jill, Jay, and Jim. All four still live in the area, or live in the area again. If you see even a few of them together, you can tell how close knit of a family they are.

Jim, the youngest of the clan, many of you know as a writer for the Herald. Volunteerism and community certainly run through his veins, currently serving as the Vice President of the Creative Economy board; Director for the non-profit group, Sustainable Rutland; as well as serving on the boards of many other non-profits and committees in Rutland County. He does everything on his plate with an integrity and efficiency that is hard not to admire. Many will hear me refer to him as “the other half of my brain,” because I tend to pick his brain and run ideas by him quite frequently. I am happy to call him one of my closest friends.

As I am sure most locals know, his family owns The Palms Restaurant on Strongs Avenue. His parents, John and Jeri, are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. When I was contemplating the idea of the donation site for Restoring Rutland, I immediately sought Jim out; as he is the “other half of my brain,” and I knew he would have an idea for a space. He suggested the location at 34 Strongs Avenue. I told him that I did not want to impose. He said, “Let me ask,” and about two minutes later, I had been given permission to use the storefront.

That first day, John and Jeri continuously checked on what was happening and if myself or my friend, Alexis Voutas (another amazing friend who stepped up and helped out without being asked), needed anything. They brought us food, they brought us drinks, they even came over and helped us organize, sort, and move boxes. They let us use their trash and cardboard dumpsters. The same was true the next day, and the next. One night, Jim and I were working late at Restoring Rutland. We had been overwhelmed with donations, and were sorting for a long time past our originally scheduled departure time. John and Jeri walked right in and started to sort. Now, this is after having cooked food for multiple days for CVPS workers, making donations themselves, letting us use the building space, and after Jeri worrying that I was going to turn into a piece of pizza and making sure I ate something else.

I have to mention the oldest three kids, as well,; Jill, Janice, and Jay. The girls have made numerous donations and always check on the volunteers to see how we are doing. Their support has been amazing. Jay, has gone above and beyond for Restoring Rutland. He has made sure that timely and urgent supplies get to the Chittenden Fire Department. He has made numerous calls to ensure important medical supplies get to the “island” communities. He has completely transcended any expectations to make sure that Restoring Rutland ran smoothly and that needed supplies made it to those citizens.

Yes, their son Jim stepped up immediately to help me out with Restoring Rutland. But I know that even if Jim weren’t involved as much as he is, or if he weren’t involved in Restoring Rutland at all, his parents would still be the generous, caring, inspiring people that they are. I encourage anyone who donated or helped out with Restoring Rutland, to thank John and Jeri. Not only for the generosity they have demonstrated, but also for raising such an amazing family. Thank the Sabatasos when you see them.

So thank you, Sabatasos. For all you have done, and will surely continue to do, for your community.

This blog post originally appeared on the Vermont Today blog.

 

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I don’t know how we got here.

Last Saturday night, I went over to a friend’s house. We were watching the national news coverage of Hurricane Irene, drinking “Hurricanes” (a rum based cocktail). It was amazing seeing New York City empty.  Although I knew people in the evacuation zone in NYC, and that some of them actually left NYC to come to Vermont fleeing the impending storm, I never could have imagined what my Sunday was going to be like.

Sunday, I worked my part-time job, and then drove through a bit of standing water on Route 7 by the Cumberland Farms to get home. I knew it was more water than normally stands there in the rain, but my mind could not even begin to imagine what was happening both in Rutland and out.

My normal Sunday routine is to do laundry, relax, and maybe catch up on what has taped on my DVR. I had saved some bananas out to make bread, too, but thought that I would sit down and check on my Facebook newsfeed first. My life will never be the same.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, that’s a little dramatic.”  But is it really? I was not prepared for the images people were posting or that my husband, being on the road around Vermont at the time, was texting to me. They were completely unreal (and frankly, still are). I looked out my living room window and saw the street filling up with water from Tenney Brook. I looked out a window on the other side of the house, and the same thing; water from another stream in the road. I didn’t know what to do. So I went back on Facebook. I started asking questions and looking at people’s walls and pictures, trying to figure out what was happening. I started to hear more people outside my house; they were stuck on one side of a bridge or another. I began to think that I should leave, and packed a quick suitcase, and called a friend in Mendon to let her know I was coming. I walked outside, and saw that the water, which just fifteen to twenty minutes ago was not too deep, was now at least knee high. I ran back inside and plopped down in the middle of the living room floor. I began to get scared a little bit; I had power, but I was alone, there was water everywhere outside of my house, and I had no idea if my husband was going to be able to make it home. Needing to focus my energy on something else, I started to make that banana bread.

My in-laws and close friends on the other side of town kept calling me and offering me rides in cars, on their backs, and in their kayaks to get out of my house. I felt awful asking someone to “rescue” me when I felt fine, I just didn’t want to be alone. Finally, a friend didn’t really give me a choice as to whether I was leaving my house or not, but told me I needed to bring the banana bread. I grabbed the bread out of the oven, even though it still needed about 10 minutes more to bake, grabbed my bag, and waded through water that was over my knees to his car.

When I returned back to my house the next morning at 7 am, I was exhausted, but jumped right back on Facebook to see what was going on. Learning that many towns in Vermont had become “island communities,” I was trying to look for a way I could do something, anything, that would be helpful to them. I posted queries on Facebook and looked up websites and…everything was just so frantic that day. I finally stumbled upon a website www.vtresponse.com, and suddenly, I was the point person for volunteer efforts in Rutland. I did a little more Facebook digging and discovered the “Restoring Rutland” event page. I contacted the creator because I had an additional idea for helping out.

Being a Rutland resident, I consider myself a city resident, a county resident, and a state resident. I knew there were several communities around the county that were now stranded with no way of knowing how long it would be for them to get help. I saw friends asking for diapers, food, baby formula, pet supplies, and many other materials. How would they get these things? I wanted to help them out. I needed to help them out.

Restoring Rutland started out as a two-day event for volunteers to get together and help clean up the city. Speaking with the creator of the event, Aaron Kraus, I told him what I wanted to do and we figured out projects would be best helped if we worked together. The rest is history.

Restoring Rutland went from a little drop off spot collecting donations to the center of Rutland county for collecting supplies to go over the “hole” to the other side of the mountain. I am amazed and humbled by the generosity of not only our direct Rutland city community, or even the county, or even the state, but the entire country. We have had supplies shipped to us from all over the country, people driving from all over New England, even if that means there are many extra hours added to their trip due to road washouts. It is amazing what a few friends can do in a few hours.

I guess I do know how we got here. We got here being raised in a state where you help your neighbor. Where you lend a hand without being asked. You don’t need to solicit donations; Vermonters are there ready to give everything they can live without. I knew Vermont was the greatest state in the nation, and I already was thankful for my parents moving here when I was 3 months old, and raising me as a Vermonter, but I am even prouder to call myself a Vermonter now.

This blog post originally appeared on the Vermont Today blog as well as the Friday, September 9, 2011 edition of the Rutland Herald.

 

 

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