Facebook Becomes More Important to Red Cross Fundraising, Disaster Relief Efforts

Facebook is now at the center of the American Red Cross‘ efforts to keep the public informed about disaster relief, especially after a catastrophic event like the Chile or Haiti earthquakes, says Wendy Harman, the organization’s director of social media. It was particularly after the Haiti earthquake that she says the Red Cross mobilized and created a procedure for how to respond on Facebook.

“It happened after Haiti, we have sort of a procedure in place now. We immediately put someone behind a Flip camera to get a situation update and we try to update as frequently as we have information,” she explains.

Facebook’s recognition of its own importance to disaster relief is evident in its creation of a Global Relief Page shortly after the Haiti disaster.

On Facebook the national American Red Cross Page has about 202,000 Likes and Harman says the organization uses that audience very pointedly by not bombarding them. Status updates are crafted to be value-driven, offer useful and pertinent information. More often than not this comes from the Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom on the web site, where Harman says people are more likely to find it. She and another employee run the Red Cross’ social media team, which took to Facebook in 2006, and initially included Flickr, YouTube and blogs in its social media repertoire.

Nowadays, however, Harman tells us that Facebook is becoming consistently important to the way the Red Cross shares information. Specifically the status update is used as the Red Cross’ most powerful Facebook weapon, mostly because the organization’s 700 local chapters and 30,000 volunteers across the country have been brought into the fold to share these updates, and thus, boost virality. The same holds true for talking back to fans; although her office may not directly talk back, she says Red Cross volunteers often will step in to help out on the Page. Harmon says the share button on the Red Cross’ web site also heavily contributes to its Facebook presence, a strategy highlighted in our Facebook Marketing Bible.

One challenge for the Red Cross, as well as other disaster relief organizations, is what to do with all of the feedback it receives from Facebook and other social media outlets, Harman says. “We’re not first responders, we don’t take individual calls for help,” she tells us. The Red Cross can’t respond when someone posts to Facebook that their cousin is trapped in Haitian rubble. The organization isn’t set up to help, and also, that same message could be shared with 10 different agencies. It’s an issue Harman says the Red Cross and other similar organizations are working to address.

As far as fundraising on Facebook, Harman explains that the Red Cross has yet to fully track such conversions, but believes the impact has been significant. The focus on Facebook increased after the huge response to text message donations for the Haiti earthquake, driven largely by social media. Currently the Page focuses more on giving the public the tools to fundraise locally. The Red Cross just published its first in-house tab and application meant to help its fans find the nearest chapter and donate. Later this year Harman tells us the Facebook Page will evolve further with a more advanced app meant to help users market and fundraise for the Red Cross.