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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 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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Vermont: Post-Irene

I am sitting at 34 Strongs Avenue, Restoring Rutland “HQ,” as we coordinators have so lovingly called it, and I can’t help but get a little sad. It is surreal for me to sit here and think about the whirlwind experience I have had in the past 14 days. I do not know if I fully understand what has happened here or how it happened.

 

The first day we were open, my friend Alexis Voutas was here even before I was, and when we received our first bag of donations, she looked at me and said, “What are we going to do with this stuff?” I looked at her and replied, “You know, I’m not sure. But I am really not worried about it.” She was a lot more worried than I was, and now, looking back over the week, I am surprised that everything worked out as well as it did. Everything fell into place. The minute we said that we were here to help, those who needed help and those who wanted to help, reached out to us. There was no emergency plan in place. There was not too much prior knowledge of who to call or what to do. The amazing thing is, we worked together with firefighters, towns, volunteers; all around amazing people and this marvelous movement occurred.

 

I have been working with the Creative Economy for over a year and a half. I have seen and heard many people talk about a lack of a sense of community from the smallest towns in our county, to the largest ones. And not just within a community, but a sense of community between these towns has also been criticized for missing. I have seen the struggles that each town is faced with and it sometimes surprises me that so many people in these areas either are not aware of or do not care about what is going on in their home town. Comparing “pre-Irene” Vermont to “post-Irene” Vermont is astounding. Vermont is very much a community oriented state, but I think over the past few years, we somehow lost ourselves and had been extremely lucky to not have experienced devastation this great. I am not trying to be cliché and say that a horrible event can drive people together to do what they normally would not. I am saying that Vermont needed to find our way back to who we are. Vermonters as individuals helping individuals has always been a way of life. We needed to get back to communities helping themselves and each other. Though I would never wish Irene or any further devastation on my wonderful state or country to occur again, what comes out of that devastation illustrates the character of those affected.

 

It is quite obvious by now that I am pro-Vermont and pro-community. I have seen what communities are capable of within themselves, and what they can offer to others. I hope that as roads get reconstructed, businesses open back up, and homes are rebuilt, that we do not lose this great sense of a statewide Vermont community. I so often say that I am thankful to be a Vermonter, and I truly believe that I always will be. I am so proud of my little Vermont, that we have proven to the nation; no, the world, that we are strong.

 

We are not easily scared.

We can overcome any obstacle.

We can work through our tears and continue to laugh.

We are strong.

We are Vermont strong.

 

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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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