Social Media’s impact on Haiti in the Wake of Disaster

This week marked the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010.  While Haiti still remains devastated, the enormous role of social media in fundraising, communicating and relief efforts is unignorable.  Twitter was utilized the most in the realm of social media pertaining to Haiti followed by online video and blogs.  Text message and digital mapping were also crucial elements of the most urgent forms of disaster relief.

In terms of fundraising, Twitter gave everyone willing to donate a single, organized  and very simple way to do so.  This is key because most donations are made on impulse and on the spot.  Sending a tweet is much easier than calling a number and waiting to be connected.  The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundation all helped contribute to a whopping $2 Billion dollars donated to Haiti relief.

The American Red Cross’s campaign is most noteworthy in my opinion.  In addition to hosting a concert in which everyone’s favorite celebrities encouraged them to call a number or Tweet, they also highly publicized a text message donation campaign: “Text HAITI”.  Texting HAITI to a certain number wired a $10 donation to the American Red Cross.  In the wake of the earthquake, more than 150,000 Twitter posts contained the words “Haiti” and “Red Cross”.  The American cross alone raised over $8 million dollars using social media and digital media.

With more people in Haiti owning cell phones than land lines, social media played a large role in communicating updates, locating trapped victims and sharing news in the most widespread way from remote areas that were also affected.  Digital mapping was used to locate trapped families using a program called Ushahidi, which was originally used in Kenya to monitor election violence.  It tracked trapped residents’ text messages to locate them and ultimately, when GPS was out of date and inaccurate, this program replaced it entirely.

One shining example of how Twitter was used to simplify communication during this ccrisis is in the Tweet of journalist Ann Curry.  Hait’s airport was damaged severely and the U.S. AirForce took ovr in order to land planes carrying aid that were unable to land in the chaos.  One of these planes was carrying the Doctors Without Borders, who were needed urgently on land.  Ann Curry tweeted @USAirfoce to land that plane.  Thanks to retweeting and the Twitter’s remarkable accessibility, the plane was landed within minutes.

The success of social media during this tragedy also provides insight for apiring PR pros into different strategies that can be aided using this now dominant channel.

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