Jason Heller, writing on MediaPost.com’s Online Spin blogspot, says while social media has clearly increased the impact of activism, marketers must be careful about shallow associations with causes. Be prepared to genuinely help, or stand clear for those who are.
My heart skips a beat every time I think about the victims of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunamis in Japan. The planet once again has humbled us and reminds us that there are far more important things to worry about than digital marketing. My wife and I survived the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004. Although an image can speak a thousand words, I can confirm firsthand that even the most dramatic and horrific imagery and videos are simply not able to portray the scope and gravity of the situation on the ground. Add to that an impending nuclear meltdown, and we are in the midst of one of the biggest disasters of our lifetimes.
Back in 2004, the lack of ubiquitous social media platforms and a stable mobile data infrastructure meant that as millions of people were affected, the world turned to CNN, the BBC and other mainstream news sources for breaking updates. However, these sources took a number of days to move past the regurgitation of the same headlines.
The role of social media and consumer-generated content in disseminating information, facilitating communication, and rallying support in the immediate aftermath of disaster is not really news — and even less so to the readers of MediaPost. In fact, we have crossed a point where the benefits of the interrelationship of traditional media with the real-time nature of social media is expected, providing exponential improvements in the speed, diversity, and accuracy of information and communication.
#PrayForJapan, #tsunami, and #Japan instantly became trending topics on Twitter and Google Trends. I found myself heading to Citizen Tube to view curated videos from the region. Facebook was my primary means of ensuring that friends and their families in Japan were accounted for and safe (thankfully they were). Twitter became my dashboard to updates from local and international media, as well as firsthand accounts from local residents. Relevant CNN, AP and BBC stories were interwoven in my social media streams because social media fuels as much discovery for journalists and authoritative news organizations as it does for consumers. These were my knee-jerk reaction sources — very different from just over five years ago during the tsunami in Thailand.
Speaking of knee-jerk reactions, marketers never cease to surprise me in their quest for visibility. In the wake of this disaster, a lapse in judgment turned a potentially noble gesture by Microsoft’s Bing into a crass marketing tactic that sparked immediate outrage. Rather than donating $100K and tweeting about their good deed to encourage others to donate, the social media team decided to donate $1 for every retweet, up to $100K. Seven hours later the company apologized for its short-sighted decision. Really, Bing? You didn’t see that one coming a mile away?
It was only one month ago when Kenneth Cole made the mistake of referring to the uproar in Cairo as a response to the release of their spring line. The Bing and Kenneth Cole examples clearly demonstrate the human element of social media, although these negative examples are the exception and not the rule. I can hear the pages of social media policies and guidelines being updated as we speak. While social media has clearly increased the impact of activism, marketers must be careful about shallow associations with causes. Be prepared to genuinely help, or stand clear for those who are.
I don’t mean to use this column to preach, and surely your social networks are brimming with ways to give. Granted, Japan is no third-world nation. But they do need the world’s support. Here are a few links for those who want to help. #PrayForJapan
Google Crisis Response Center [http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html]
Facebook Disaster Relief Page
Dog Bless You (Rescue Dogs)
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