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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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don’t underestimate the internet

The power of a single person on the Internet has become more and more apparent. Companies and governments are not safe from the people.  Something that social marketing consultants, like myself, will often remind their clients of is the difference between traditional marketing and social marketing. Traditional marketing is one-sided. You create your brand and present it to the public. You tell your consumer what you want to and can control your message. Social marketing has turned the tables into a multi-sided conversation. Although you can still create your branding and the image you want to project, ultimately your customers will respond to your message and want to interact with you. Positive interaction is then promoted, viewed, and passed on to friends. It is like trackable word of mouth. And how your company handles your negative interactions is also scrutinized and passed on.

The power that I am talking about is how much of a voice the Internet has given back to the public. Let’s jump around a bit and look at some of these phenomena.

SOPA and PIPA

As I spoke about a few weeks ago in my post, SOPA stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” This was a proposal that was moving towards becoming a law at the federal level, supposedly about Internet piracy. The problem with this, was the wording was incredibly vague and appeared to severely restrict Internet usage.

On January 18, 2012, multiple sites, including the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, WordPress, and over 7,000 other websites participated in either a service blackout or made some sort of post or movement on their sites to raise awareness of the dangerous of these acts. Google also had a petition that gained over 7 million signatures. Boycotts happened of companies that supported the legislation, state representatives were contacted, and an offline rally was even held in New York City.

What happened next was amazing. Representatives and companies that had supported the bills the day before started backing off of them and slowly, the acts came off the table. This does not mean that the ideas behind legislation is completely gone, but it was an incredibly show of what people on the Internet could do together.

Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

On January 31, 2012, the Susan G. Komen organization, a breast-cancer organization in the United States, cut off its funding of Planned Parenthood. While many anti-abortion groups applauded the move, the public was not impressed. Women’s advocacy groups were fast to criticize the move, stating that the Komen organization was putting politics ahead of women’s health. The following 24 hours generated a lot of buzz around the Internet. $400,000 was given to Planned Parenthood from over 6,000 donors. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pledge a grant of $250,000 that matched a gift from the CEO of Bonanza Oil Co. They did this to replace the funding that was lost.

On February 3, 2012, just three days later, Komen’s board of directors issued a statement apologizing to the American public. They backed down from their previous statement, and instead said they would continue to fund exisiting grants, including Planned Parenthood. Four days later, on February 7, the director of Komen submitted her resignation, which went into effect immediately.

And these aren’t the only examples, and it is certainly not ONLY happening in the United States. In 2011, Tunsia decided it was time to boot out dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Social media and the Internet played an encouraging role in the success of their protests. Wikileaks released internal United States government that confirmed that the people in the US felt the same about Ben Eli as the people in Tunsia did. Hacker group Anonymous also supported the cause by not only defending Wikileaks, but hitting Tunsia websites, as well.

So how did the Internet get so much power? Why are governments, both democracies and other forms of governments alike, afraid of these Internet driven causes? Personally, I think that there are several factors that contribute to this fear. In democracies, the leaders, in order to stay in any sort of seat in power, need to listen to the citizens that voted them into power in the first place. I think that it is amazing that the “government for the people, by the people” is starting to circle around and bring some of the decision influences back down to the citizen level.  Also, I think the simple fact that “word of mouth” doesn’t take very long to spread any more. We can know what is happening in the world, including protests, news, causes, epidemics…in a matter of minutes.

To bring this to a local perspective, think back to the day Tropical Storm Irene hit the area. There were pictures of every corner on town, people were sharing what roads were destroyed and to avoid, and even seeking help out of their house.  I think back even further to 2007 when we had that terrible wind storm in April. Just 5 years ago, there were many fewer local people on Facebook and the same volume of sharing online didn’t happen.  After the wind passed, everyone was out in their cars surveying the damage. With Irene, you already had seen the damage as it was being caused right on Facebook.

Now, local businesses and organizations need to utilize the power of these mediums. Engage your followers. Post interesting and informative information. Support other businesses and organizations through your page. If you are posting interesting and informative information, fans or followers that find this information interesting will often repost or retweet the information, which will cause a ripple of effect, generating more followers and passing on your information to more people.

Continue to may attention to what’s happening online, no matter your career. Chances are, it does affect you, and your action may make all the difference. For your pages and posts, make them engaging and interesting. You never know the full power of how your content may take off.

(Research from wikipedia.org and motherjones.org.)

 

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the great internet blackout

Since you are obviously an Internet user, you must have run into some information about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it’s sister legislation called the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA). If you had not heard about these proposals before Wednesday, January 18th, you may have run into odd “blackouts” on sites like Google, Wikipedia, and WordPress (yes, the very site that hosts this blog), among many, many others. Looking at the names of these two bills, you may think that their names make them sound like a good thing. We all like pirates (yay, Johnny Depp!), but not the kind of pirates who steal people’s copyrighted material and make money off of them.  This, we all agree, is wrong and illegal.

The wording of these proposals is currently very vague.  To be very simplistic, the only things that SOPA and PIPA do is protect the rights of artists and they apply due process to judge infringement claims. That’s it. There are a lot of words in the acts that are unexplained and leave a lot of doors open with what they can actually apply the laws to.  Under these bills, you may not be able to get to a site you were looking for because of the imposed breakdown of DNS (Domain Name System), which is essentially the “switchboard” of the Internet.

Response from Google Chrome when Facebook.com could not be reached.

Due to the amount of censorship and lack of clarity about how the censoring works, “SOPA would reduce freedom of expression and undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet…[and it] would impose harmful regulations on American business and slow economic growth in the U.S.” (Greg Jarobe, SEO-PR president).

Another issue is a website shutdowns or dismantlements.  If someone makes a claim about copyright infringement, they can contact advertisers and payment processors and make claims about the infringement to have the services disabled, without notice or a chance to respond from the website owner.

If you went on the Internet at all on Wednesday (January 18th), chances are you ran into least one website that was participating in the “blackout.” Sites Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia, whose content is user generated and created (hence the definition of a wiki, being collaborative information) are very concerned with the SOPA and PIPA act.

Screenshot of Oatmeal.com from January 18th, 2012

Screenshot of Wikipedia.com from January 18, 2012

Images from: Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia.com.

Sites like Google and WordPress did something a little different, but still participated in the protest.

Screenshot of Google.com from January 18, 2012

Screenshot of WordPress.com from January 18, 2012

Images from Google.com and WordPress.com

My friend Jim Sabataso and I, among other friends, changed our Facebook profile pictures and only posted, on both our Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, about SOPA and PIPA, including passing on the petition to stop the bills.  Did the protest work? Sort of is my honest answer.  Reports came in that at least fifteen Senators who originally signed their endorsement of SOPA pulled out by some time Thursday (January 19th).  But there is still some power behind both the bills and it isn’t over yet.

There is an alternative to these bills and it’s something that no one really seems to be discussing.  An act that has been drawn up that many opponents of SOPA and PIPA support.  This is called the OPEN act. This act seems like the most reasonable alternative, keeping in mind the creators of materials as well as keeping the Internet free and open. KeepTheWebOpen.com has created this great infographic to compare the three current proposals.

OPEN vs SOPA vs PIPA comparison

Infographic from KeepTheWebOpen.com.

If you use the Internet at all, which you must since you found my blog, I beg of you to keep your eyes on this. I hate to slap on a freedom of speech campaign onto my blog, but it is something that I have always felt so lucky to have. It is sad to me to think that instead of truly solving a problem, lawmakers want to essentially sweep it under the rug.

I have linked some sites that give better explanations of the bills then I ever could, including some that don’t seem to fully support the protest. So keep your eye on what’s going on with these bills.  No matter if you are a webmaster, business owner, student, parent, or casual internet browser, they DO directly affect you.

Research on SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN from, and to find out more visit:

Lifehacker

SearchEngineWatch

Wall Street Journal

Slate

Business Review USA

Tech Crunch

The New Yorker

Google: SOPA Blackout

 

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