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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 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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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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