How the Red Cross is using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, RSS and WordPress.com in their disaster response efforts

Kudos to whoever at the Red Cross came up with the approach of setting up this website (and the executive who approved it) to support their efforts to meet the massive needs resulting from the tornadoes and floods in the Midwest. Because the Red Cross, like lots of organizations, has been at least experimenting with social media, someone within the organization had the mindset to pull together the tools necessary to quickly launch a website that is rich in new-media features. In doing so, they are providing a simple model to others of how online networking and conversational community building tools can be combined almost instantly* to support large-scale communication efforts.

Here’s a run-down of how the Red Cross is using a wide array of social and conversational media tools.

1. A Website running on WordPress: They’re calling it an Online Newsroom, but you’ll recognize it as a blog. Who cares what it’s called. WordPress.com is a robust (free, fast and stable) platform for setting up a site in a situation like this. (In the days after Katrina, when they couldn’t publish a paper or bring up their regular website, the Times Picayune used a blog — I think it was running of Movable Type — to keep its readers (and the world) informed. I suggested at the time that their blog deserved a Pulitzer and fortunately, the Pulitzer judges later agreed.)

2. Flickr: The Red Cross has a Flickr account and has created a set for photos from the disaster area. (Helpful advice for those running it — use captions and comments to point back to the weblog.)

3. Google Maps Mashups: A simple “My Maps” interface for a national map showing where the Red Cross is responding to disasters.

4. RSS: The Red Cross is using FeedBurner to offer state-by-state RSS feeds of disaster-related posts. For example, here is the feed for Iowa. And here is a full-feed of posts from the entire region.The list of state feeds can be found in the right-hand column of the blog.

5. Slide.com: The Red Cross is using Slide.com to create slide shows like his one related to Indiana flood damage. (As they are using Flickr, they could have used the slide-show embed feature from that service, as well.)

6. YouTube: The Red Cross has a YouTube account and yesterday used it to host a video that it embedded in the flood blog.

7. Twitter: You can follow @RedCross on Twitter to be notified of any breaking news that has been posted on the blog. This can allow people to follow the updates via text-messaging. (The account now is being used primarily to announce things posted online — I’d be thinking of it as a means to communicate with people trying to gather news on their cell-phones who may not be able to click through to a website.)

Sidenote: Here’s something on which they need to do a better job. The Red Cross buries the location where bloggers can pick up code to add a donation banner to their blogs. And they have no banners with disaster-specific messages. If you’d like to contribute, click here.

*While these tools can be pulled together instantly, from experience with such projects at Hammock, we’ve learned it’s better if you plan ahead when integrating several different services. Things like tagging, use of APIs, and nuanced features on the services can be fully utilized if you think through how the services can be used in different scenarios.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    I didn’t meant to, but for some reason comments were turned off on this post. Here’s one I received from someone at the Red Cross:

    There was a conscious decision very early to not make this about donations. Given that WordPress is a free and open tool, it would be considered inappropriate by some (a sizable enough percentage, anyway) to use the tool to blast fundraising messages. It’s not a means to make a grab for money — it’s a way to show the American people the reality of the service delivery. There are always other, more appropriate venues to make the “ask” after you’ve shown proof of performance.

    The target audience has always been media, hence the branding as an Online Newsroom. The WordPress platform (and the other Web 2.0 tools) are amazing in that they allow Red Cross volunteers from the affected zones and relief operations to push information and “evidence of service” in a much faster way. There’s more bandwidth for such info. (In the past, you might get just one or two pictures from a community — now we can do whole photo-essays.)

    You may have missed it, but Red Crossers are also using Uttterz to get soundbites and interviews from the field into the mix.

    Sorry I missed Utterz.

    My complaint about how hard it is to find fundraising banners was directed more at the RedCross.org website, not the disaster update site. Even then, it wasn’t really a complaint, just an observation. You all are doing a great job in a challenging situation.