What Hurricane Harvey and Irma Teach us About Social Media Strategy

By Denise Konkol on September 30, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and Irma create a social media storm

The 2017 hurricane season is living up to its predicted billing, with Hurricane Harvey and Irma racking up historic statistics with nearly three months to go:

Hurricane Harvey and social mediaFor its part, social media came into its own under these dire circumstances, prompting one academic to dub Harvey the first major disaster of the social media age.

“We’ve seen disasters through Facebook where you can mark yourself safe and there have been movements toward giving people a chance to check in—but this is one of the first real disasters where you see rescuing via social media, you see images that the media couldn’t possibly get,” George Washington University media professor Nikki Usher told Time Magazine. 

Facebook has had a safe check-in to let loved ones know that someone in harm’s way is OK, but the level to which people used the tools of social media during Harvey, and now Irma, is unprecedented. As professionals who use this social media to assist businesses we need to pay attention to the lessons being taught through all of this.

The power of the hashtag connects people to services

Twitter was used extensively to assist flooded residents through hashtags like #HelpHouston and #sosHarvey. While emergency operations stressed the importance of calling 911 first in a disaster, the magnitude of calls that came into dispatchers simply couldn’t be answered. These hashtags allowed willing citizens armed with courage and a flat-bottomed boat to connect with the requests for rescue in a forum that allowed everyone to see who was still in need. Picking a few, well-focused hashtags can also do the same for anyone looking to build a community around the needs of people and the services that you can offer to meet those needs.

Facebook groups: an often overlooked tool in sharing information and resources

One group formed on Facebook called Hurricane Harvey Rescue Group and allowed people to post specific addresses of people in need of rescue. It also was where residents who could help find these requests and respond. Similar to Twitter, the forum allowed for people to view the conversations, and see where needs were being met and those who still were left unfilled. Most businesses understand the need for a Facebook page, but few also use groups to create that elevated user group that can post questions, dialog with other users and also receive information from the business that sponsors the group. If people will prefer to do business with people they like, Facebook groups can be an excellent way to build the goodwill of sharing valuable, relevant and helpful information in an even more intimate way.

Videos tell the story in a way nothing else can

In an even more personal application the Hurricane Harvey Book Club connected teachers with kids and helped ease a few fears by posting videos of books being read. The surprising part was the response from the kids to post their own videos in the group, which extended from coast to coast and around the world. Video simply is irresistible, easy to use and completely engaging – use it whenever possible.

Location, location, location

We’ve talked plenty about how Google maps and other location services can positively impact SERPs, and for the first time, Irma will be the testing ground to map flooding in Florida. MIT’s Risk Lab introduced the open source platform, called RiskMap.us, to track flooding in southern Florida. the pilot will provide updates in real time to citizens and emergency planners, and allows for people to submit reports via Twitter, Facebook, or Telegram. RiskMap is a bot, which sends users a one-time link to add locations, flood depths, photos and description when it is sent a direct message through a chat box.

The platform also uses the power of crowdsourcing, which is the secret sauce to any successful marketing program. Users are your resource just as much as you are theirs, and when you can employ a platform to allow them to share information in order to make your game that much better, it’s a win-win.

Appropriate use of social 

Sadly, there were opportunities for people to use the medium to spread rumor and fake news about Hurricane Harvey, which at best was cruel, and at worst dangerous. Of course, it’s easy to click share on something that appears important and relevant, but not vetting the source can make you look foolish and unprofessional. Always check the sources and see if other major news outlets are posting this information before you post any shares on your social media channels.

An invaluable tool, anytime

Social media has outgrown its singular purpose as a source of entertainment long ago, but it’s been through these recent disasters that this point has been made clearest. In the midst of unthinkable stress and angst, it’s been what people go to for help, resources and more often than not, rescue. The question any business should ask isn’t if they should be on social media, but rather which platforms will serve them best, and how they can employ a message that will reach those in need.

If people under duress are making the decision to use social media, those undergoing a calmer, more thoughtful search process will certainly use it. We love helping make those connections on a daily basis between clients and their customers.

We’d love it even more when we can share these resources for you to connect in a meaningful way with organizations that could certainly use your help:

American Red Cross – Hurricane Harvey Relief

American Red Cross – Hurricane Irma Relief

UNICEF Relief for Puerto Rico

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