Social Media to Help Others

The invention of social media has changed the way we communicate as individuals. Today we are constantly connected to one another whether or not we prefer to be. Social media has not only been used to keep individuals in contact with other individuals, but as a way for businesses to communicate and connect with their consumers. Social media interactions focus on building customer relations and fulfilling the expectation “that customers expect brands and businesses to be there for them everywhere, across mobile and social media.” 

While for-profit businesses try to drive consumerism behavior, non-profits try to drive behavior towards volunteering, donating, rallying, etc. Social media offers an inexpensive but powerful way to recognize and encourage desired behavior. Social networking sites allow non-profits to quickly announce, update, or reiterate the needs or goals of the organization itself or the publics they are trying to help, to vast numbers of people. This becomes largely helpful in raising awareness of time sensitive or unexpected events, in particular during times of crisis. Whether natural or humanitarian, social media can allow to-the-minute updates of the severity of the situation and the needs of the victims. One recent event in Kenya has proven just how successful a non-profits needs can be filled when using social media.

On September 21, 2013 terrorists with the Islamist militant group Shabab in Somalia (linked to Al Queda) invaded a Kenyan mall. Westgate Mall is a 5-story upscale mall that represents the country’s growth and prosperity. A little before noon the Shabab conducted a double attack on the mall with heavily armed attackers storming into the mall from two different entrances and opening fire on shoppers. The shooting rampage soon turned into a hostage situation as many of the shoppers were trapped inside. As night fell, two special units moved in to try and rescue hostages and stop the attackers. The situation lasted for four days and concluded with over 60 deaths and 175 people injured.

During the Westgate crisis the Kenya Red Cross (KRC) stepped up their game and became a prominent first responding unit. Performing the normal duties of any Red Cross organization they helped to alleviate those involved in the Westgate disaster by holding blood drives, setting up triages, and creating missing persons list, but what the Kenya Red Cross did the best during this crisis was communication.

From the start of the shoot out the KRC began sharing information about the crisis through the social media platform Twitter. As the events unfolded their tweets consisted of calls for blood donations, updates to where people could report and find the status of missing persons, and updates on changing traffic patterns.

example of info & blood tweets

They even tweeted pictures giving Kenyans and people around the world a first look at the crisis.

KRC helping victims people being escorted out of mall

Using Twitter was a way the KRC could not only rally support and share information, but show their role as a non-profit to the world. Unifying the people of Kenya in this moment of crisis was their biggest accomplishment. This success was shown in the turnouts of volunteers and blood donors they received in the following days of the ordeal.

large crowd turnout

Even though the terrorist attack ended days ago the Kenya Red Cross is continuing their efforts to help those affected through the social media platform. They have collected 11,293 units of blood and are reporting the money raised and what it is being used for to the public – all through tweets. Their ability to reconnect people after disaster through Twitter makes them a shining star in non-profit social media use.

The Kenya Red Cross used social media to inform people all over the web of an important issue, as well as what solutions could be offered to help. This represents agenda setting, the theory that the media have the ability to tell people what issues are important around the world. This also involves controlling the topics people discuss and become concerned with, so by using Twitter, the Kenyan Red Cross regulated the conversation of many people who were directly affected by the disaster. An awareness of the situation was presented, therefore the crisis was held at a higher level of importance because of the media outlet that was used.

It is clear through the Westgate Crisis that social media can be used successfully by non-profits that respond and work through disasters.  Social media will prove again and again to be a useful medium to help victims, bring together volunteers and unite the world in times of crisis.

Caroline Robinson, Jade Lester, Meghan Carey, Morgan Jones, Savannah Valade.

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18 thoughts on “Social Media to Help Others

  1. Very significant case to explore. Several things come to mind. First, is the power of narrative. The Red Cross had a narrative, but so did the terrorists. What story did they disseminate and adopt so that opening fire on shoppers made sense? We don’t like to think about media effects except in positive cases like the Red Cross, but the dark side of such effects must also be recognized. C.S. Lewis said good philosophy must exist because bad philosophy must be answered. Let’s hope social media answers that charge! Second, the Red Cross case is so powerful because it was true. I don’t mean when contrasted with the evil lies of the terrorists, but I mean contrasted with the constant streams of conjecture, hypotheticals, rumors, “what ifs” and speculations that fuel so much of social and even traditional media. Ghandi said “Speak, only if it improves on silence.” Oh that such were the code of social media content providers! Question: is the effectiveness shown in the case unique to the Red Cross, unique to non-profits, what made this happen: do they have a code or a culture or just great individuals in charge?

    • Dr. Olsen,

      During our research we looked at many non-profits using social media. This Westgate event and the Kenya Red Cross stuck out to us because the reality that a non-profit was helping during a terrorist and hostage crisis, was really different from the natural disaster events in America in which social media had been a part of. I think the effectiveness shown in this case is a combination of things, the first being great individuals in charge who understand the benefits of social media, second the Kenyan individuals and other non-profit organizations that spread the tweets, and third the eagerness of the volunteers. I believe that this success could be replicable in many different situations as long as the individuals in charge understand what information is worth spreading and those following the information are invoked into action. Thanks for the comment!

      -Caroline Robinson

  2. While i do agree with you on the fact that social media can be used for good and your example of the Red Cross response is awesome one cant help but see social media can also be used for bad! All kinds of bad things happen on our beloved social sites such as bullying, terrorism, sexual predators, etc. Not to mention the government and all kinds of companies are using our personal information for their benefit. Some will argue that they are definitely used to violate our personal rights more than often.

    • Great point Edward! Social media can be used irresponsibly and in damaging ways, and has been misused in the past. I think it is up to us as individuals to make sure that we are using the platform in a responsible and beneficial way, as well as to help make sure organizations, especially non-profits, are using it for the benefit of others.

      -Caroline Robinson

  3. Susan Willetts
    I agree that social media is a very important way to communicate the needs of our society. In the past, when disasters would happen, needs were communicated by word of mouth. This process could be slow and would hinder aid to people in need. In the world today, through social media, society is able to take the news and needs globally, reaching and helping more people faster than ever.

  4. Although many believe that social media is a bad thing, I disagree. I think this blog is a perfect example of that. Those tweets had a huge impact on how many people became aware of the situation in order to help. It gets the word out faster. Before social media, the news and news paper were the only available source of information, and even that would take at least a day to report. With social media such as Facebook and twitter, those who don’t watch the news or read the newspaper instantly know what is going on in the world!

  5. I think social media is not always a bad thing, but in fact can be such a useful tool. Like the example of the Westgate Crisis, people all over the world who use social media are now informed firsthand of what happened. When news events are posted from credible sources it cuts down on the telephone effect, when the subject gets lost in translation from person to person. Most people now days have some sort of social media and I feel like it is doing more good than harm.

  6. Social media is defiantly a substantial way to communicate and promote, that I would agree. I also believe in our day and age its a necessary, so I agree with the idea that social media in this example was used for good. Unfortunately, there are so many ways social media can be harmful. Now i understand that it has become a wildly acceptable, but what about when it is used for bad? On a completely different scale but relaying back to the topic; take bullying for example, kids who were bullied at school used to only have to dread the act of attending class, now they not only have to deal with it there but also at home. Some kids are so bombarded by it they choose not to use social media all together. So how could social media be helpful and useful for them? They don’t check the latest Twitter feeds so they would have no idea how non-profits, like KRC contributed to those in need in such a devastating crisis. I realize this is an ongoing issue, I guess what I am trying to say is I think there should be a way to monitor it more, yet I do know that is a pretty unrealistic claim.

  7. There are always positives and negatives when addressing social media as a way to get a message out to the general public. However, in this case it seems that it only helped. In the recent Boston Marathon Bombing, Boston Police used social media as one of their primary sources in finding those responsible. To some extent, this may be an invasion of privacy, but if it saves lives I personally have no problem with that at all. Everyone always says once it’s on the internet it never goes away, I think it’s about time people really understand the significance of that statement. In this situation, getting new out to the people about the situation was a big part of the relief. The opposite was true for the Boston Marathon Bombing, to find the suspect the Boston Police posted a tweet showing the picture of the suspect and asked for anyone who could identify the man to call a specific number. Seems to me that social media, at least thus far is only helping the cause.

    • Great point Charles! I personally believe social media was created to really benefit our means of communication. Now, we as users have to make sure it stays to our benefit. Thanks for the post!

      -Caroline Robinson

  8. This article was really interesting in the sense that it looked at social media use from a global perspective. I feel that most of the time we look at how social media is prevalent in American society and disasters occurring in our part of the world, but really are not aware of how other countries and organizations in those areas utilize this resource. While there are instances when social media is abused, I feel like disaster situations such as the mall attack in Kenya, and those disasters occurring in the United States really display how effective social media is at relaying information to thousands and thousands of people. It not only allows us to communicate news, but also to keep updating the public when more news becomes available.

    • Amy,

      One reason our group found this so interesting is because of the location where the crisis occurred. As a developing country it is great to see Kenya coming together and using social media to do it!

      -Caroline Robinson

  9. I completely agree that social media is a useful tool in working through disasters and bringing people together. I am from a very small town in Hatteras Island where something like murder is unheard of. About a year ago, there was a lot of hype over a woman who went missing. This immediately started a campaign on Facebook to find her and her boyfriend, who was last seen with her. Her family created a page dedicated to finding her and it quickly had thousands of people following it. This caused a lot of people to form search parties and come together until they found her. It took about a week, but her body was discovered strangled and beat up behind a dumpster. Obviously, the family was devastated but what really affected me was how devastated those who didn’t even know them personally were. The Facebook page created such a strong community among it’s followers that people had invested so much of their thoughts and prayers to this woman so finding out she had been murdered was a hard thing to cope with. Also, her boyfriend (who was found guilty) was recognized by these people half way across the country because they saw his picture on the Facebook page. They called the cops and sure enough, he was arrested. In conclusion, I think social media is an excellent way to really get the word out about tragic events.

    • Ashley,

      Great example to add to our blog. It seems like social media can be used in all sorts of ways to help, even to bring someone to justice! Thanks for the comment!

      -Caroline Robinson

  10. I think with almost anything in existence there are positive and negative attributes. Social media can be used for both good and bad and all lies in the hands of whoever is using it. In this case, social media was used to help bring together people to help those who were in need and ended up being successful. This does not always happen but did in this case. Just because it does not happen all the time does not mean that it does not happen at all. This blood drive is a great representation of what can happen when groups of people ban together to create something positive. At the same token, negative agendas can also be set through social media. The point is it is inevitable that for every positive there is a negative. In this instance we get to see the positive effects of what social media can do.

  11. I was really impressed with how well the Kenya Red Cross handled the situation and created a communication outlet between the tragedy and the people of Kenya. By using their twitter account they were able to keep the people informed, which probably made things a little easier on the people of Kenya by easing their minds. This is a great example of how social media can really be used in a positive way and even help save lives of other people. Even though social media can also be used in a negative light, I believe that the benefits like this example outweigh the negatives.

  12. I think this is a very interesting case where social media made a huge difference in the support this non-profit gained. Social media is a tool that is especially important for organizations that are not for profit, because the only way that they can continue to exist is with support of the public. Social media gives these non-profits a way to reach a lot of people in a very short amount of time, and clearly in this particular situation, that use of social media to gain support was successful.

  13. I really enjoyed this post! I definitely think social media has a HUGE on our society and our day-to-day routines. As others stated, social media has a lot of positives and negatives,but overall I think it has allowed for our society to communicate more effectively. Social media during terrible events like the Kenyan mall,Boston bombing, and even Sandy Hook has gone crazy. It’s hard to get on Facebook or Twitter after an event that ended peoples lives. Social media is spreading awareness about current events and it will be a part of our lives forever.

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