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.