If you’ve been struggling to get your arms around Social Media– what it means, why you and your organization should cross that bridge–I think you’ll find insight and inspiration by the American Red Cross’ Social Media initiatives.
Consider the American Red Cross’ statement:
“Social media tools allow us to connect with you on an individual basis at the place where your life intersects with our mission. It makes sense that we would explore these tools and join these conversations that are an important part of your daily life.
Every day, several hundred people talk online about how their lives intersect with the Red Cross. We read and learn from every conversation. By adopting social media, we’re making it easier for you to tell us how to make the Red Cross a better organization.”
The American Red Cross has created multiple social media presences:
red cross chat, chapter blogs, youth blogs, disaster online newsroom, flickr, twitter, facebook, youtube, good2gether, linkedin, ammado, social vibe.
What you’ll see about these presences is that they are all purposeful and mission-driven–and exemplify how organizations can use different tools to accomplish specific goals. That being said, the overriding arc for American Red Cross’ use of social media do what they’ve set out to do–connect, intersect, converse and listen.
Social Media Q & A
In a recent online Q & A, I had with Wendy Harman, of the American Red Cross, she provides valuable perspectives on the how-to’s of Social Media implementation.
What departments needed to be involved in decision-making and implementation for social media presences?
Communications & Marketing, Office of the General Counsel, in some instances the President’s Office, Development, Disaster Response, Blood Services, Health & Safety Services. Pretty much everyone at one point or another.
How long did it take from the time the ideas were introduced until they were rolled out?
Well, our social media projects have evolved all along, but I’d say it took about two years from the time I started proposing its use to the “tipping point” where most everyone is on board and supporting our initiatives.
Approximately how many staff are involved in the communication via social media? Did existing staffers have to acquire new skills? Were new positions created?
Officially there are 2 staff members involved in social media. I was hired as the “new media integrator” in late 2006 and we brought in Claire Sale from the intranet team in early 2008. We have spent a considerable amount of time educating and training others at headquarters and in the field and even expect our disaster public affairs volunteers and staff to create content for our disaster online newsroom.
We often hear people talk about difficulty moving social media initiatives through because some question the Return on Investment. Were there statistics, examples of organizations which helped to support the case?
We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been given a bunch of freedom to try out pilot projects and dip our toes into social media without being tested on ROI. We’ve had other obstacles but this hasn’t been one of them. This isn’t to say we’re not interested in ROI because we increasingly are – we’ve just been allowed to find out the returns on insight. We’ve been given the gift of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
What kind of schedules have been set-up for social media communications? e.g. times a week for blog posts, facebook, twitter.
We haven’t specifically set up calendars or schedules for updating these things. I think doing that is a little dangerous because then we’d be filling a slot and not necessarily offering valuable information. We update when we feel we have something to say. That said, we usually post to the blog at least 1/day, we spend several hours “listening” and responding to the existing conversation and inviting people to join us, and we tweet about 1/day (more if there’s a disaster happening).
I couldn’t help but notice how effective a presence like Twitter is for an organization like the American Red Cross–e.g. in communication regarding first aid tents at the Inauguration, and communication regarding the New York Plan Crash. How would these messages been communicated previously?
Before social media tools like Twitter we had to rely on being in front of traditional media gatekeepers like print, radio and TV journalists reporting on these stories. These outlets are still important but we now have the luxury of telling our own story and offering important resources without relying on them.
Did you work with an outside vendor for any parts of the process? Are you able to maintain internally?
We have not worked with an outside vendor at all before now. We recently got the help of Radian6’s tool to make it easier for us to “listen.” We also very recently hired a firm to help with our email outreach. They’ll be helping us a bit with our social media strategies as well.
What advice would you give to an organization who is considering social media–but still on the fence?
It’s simple advice. Lay out the goals you have for your organization and evaluate whether social media can help you achieve them. Don’t get in this pool just because everyone is doing it – be mission-focused.
photo credit: turtlemoon’s photostream on flickr