Social Media Comes to the Aid of the Red Cross

Donations for the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2009 have reached record proportions. According to, the amount of money raised for Haiti in the first 48 hours of the disaster was greater than the amount brought in during a similar period after Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami disasters. What’s really amazing is that all of this is happening in the midst of challenging economic times.  

As of January 19th, the American Red Cross has raised the most money so far (1), and donations are still pouring in. Wendy Harman, the director of social media for the Red Cross, has stated that both Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in getting word out about how to make donations to Haiti relief. Nearly two-thirds of donations received by the American Red Cross have been online contributions (2).  

Within hours of the Haiti Crisis, the Red Cross announced that Haiti relief donations could also be made via text messaging “Haiti” to 90999 (these donations are charged back to the the phone user, via their phone network carrier, and shows up on their monthly bill). About 15-20% of the Red Cross donations have been made via text messaging. In fact, the amount raised so far (via text messaging) has surpassed the $4 million that was donated to all charities via mobile texts in ALL of 2009.  

Donations made via text messaging helps to resolve many of the online challenges that mobile phones users face today. Some of these advantages are:  

  • No need to navigate through numerous web pages
  • No need to enter billing information like addresses, credit card numbers
  • No need to hold on the phone “for the next representative”
  • No need to have a credit card (payment/billing processed by phone carrier)

Donations via text messaging is a quick and efficient way to donate money. Best of all, it makes it easy for many of those that want to help, but don’t have immediate access to a laptop or desktop computer. Basically it provides a great option for the growing mobile phone generation. 

There’s so much to be learned here as an online marketer. The donation options provided by the Red Cross clearly illustrate that it’s now possible to promote your cause, product or service via a simple Tweet or Facebook page. It also shows that you do not need to refer potential customers to your eCommerce oriented website in order to accept payments. This alone raises all kinds of new possibilities for online marketers.  

Hopefully at some point we’ll see data in terms of how users initially found out about the Red Cross text Messaging campaign. It looks like Twitter and Facebook were first used to promote the text messaging donation option and that it went viral on broadcast media and news outlets after that point. It would be extremely interesting to see just how important the Red Cross web site was in terms of promoting the text messaging option.  

This concept should be raising questions and ideas in terms of how your own business or organization is reaching out to prospective clients and customers. Are you using the most effective communication channels when promoting goods or services? Do you know what devices or platforms people prefer to use when they are searching for solutions? These are the types of questions that you should be asking in today’s social media world.

Who’s Your Town Crier?

the town crier

In earlier times the Town Crier was the primary source of news and information. They would ring a bell to catch everyone’s attention, read their proclamation or announcement, and then post it in a common area for all to see. Do you see any similarities today?

Good question… who are the Town Criers of today’s world of media and technology? Obviously newspapers, radio, and television still play an important role when it comes to keeping many of us informed. Thanks to the internet though, other forms of media have emerged which are providing us with more personalized sources for information.

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting for a local Social Networking group. The primary topic (as always) was the role that social media is playing in today’s online marketing world. One of the groups that presented was an online marketing group with a case study about a product called GoGirl, a “female urination device that allows women to pee while standing up”.

Now, I don’t want you to become too distracted by the thought of this, but GoGirl was definitely a product that caught my attention. What I found so interesting about GoGirl wasn’t so much the product itself, but mostly the presentation which gave social media much of the credit for their success. As it turns out, I think they missed a far more important communication link that played a huge role in the initial success of their product. This missing link is comparable to the modern day version of a Town Crier.

The Town Crier in this case was a local television reporter (Esme Murphy), who after hearing about this product, sent a tweet, ”wow, didn’t know we needed it. what do you think?”. Well, needless-to-say, she has many followers in Twitter and apparently because of the response to this tweet, she decided to run a story about this product on local news.

Not long after the story ran, news about the GoGirl product spread and it was quickly picked up by the national media. Before long, the GoGirl marketing team was making appearances on nationally broadcast talk shows where they introduced this product to even more people. What great PR for a product!

So the question begs to be asked, was more attention brought to this product through Social Media? Or, was it the “Town Crier” (in this case the reporter) who was able to reach out to people via a more mainstream media outlet.

When information about GoGirl was first broadcast on television, it reached a much wider audience than Twitter. Intially Twitter was basically used to gauge interest for this product. But word about this product really reached a more mainstream audience via the Town Crier on television.

Do you know who your primary Town Criers are in today’s world?  It’s an important consideration and one that should not be looked upon too lightly. It’s wise to spend time trying to find out who the Town Criers are for your specific market and audience. If you reach out to them, they could become an invaluable advocate for your product or service through their networking channels.


Tacos and Tweets – A Success Story

When it comes to internet marketing, not all businesses are created equally. An internet marketing strategy that works for one business, will likely not work for another. Unfortunately, most businesses aren’t able to think outside of the box when it comes an internet marketing strategy. They’ll assume that if the competition is doing one thing, they need to do the same in order to keep up.

This past weekend, CBS Sunday Morning, did a segment on the growth of street food vendors in Los Angeles. Many of these vendors operate out of a truck and sell mostly tacos or burritos. Street food vendors park their trucks (or carts) at different locations for only an hour or so at a time because many times they are prohibited from parking longer than this at each location.

Now I know what you’re asking at this point. You probably wondering what street vendors have to do with internet marketing?. Well, let’s look into their challenges a bit more to find out.

Let’s assume that you operate a business that is dependent on walk-up traffic, and your business is required (by city law) to change locations every hour or so. How would you generate enough walk-up business to support yourself? Well, historically, the best way do this would be to make sure that you are parked in an area where there are lots of customers that can generate sales for you in a very short period of time.

The challenge with this approach is that from a marketing perspective, a local business that needs to constantly change locations is going to be a challenge to promote. After all, you can’t advertise your address because it’s always changing. It’s also going to be difficult to capture a loyal customer base because they won’t always be able to find you in the same place at the same time. Lastly, you’re always going to bump into competition at the busiest locations.

So how would you promote this type of  business in today’s online world? Well, thanks to Twitter we have our answer. In fact Twitter is responsible for creating a boom for street food vendors. Enter a truck food vendor by the name of Kogi. Kogi began business back in November of 2008 and has become a Twitter phenom (NPR Article).

kogiThere were several things that Kogi did differently that made them the business success that they are. One was to create branding around their truck with a logo, a clean look AND most importantly, a memorable company name. Next, and more importantly, they started announcing their truck locations and specials via Twitter. Now they were in a position to create a customer base that could find them wherever they were.

Needlesstosay, business is booming for Kogi and now several other street food vendors are following this example. Just check out this list (from 2009) of street food vendors around the country with their Twitter user names. It almost seems as if Twitter were made for this purpose. In retrospect though, this is a classic example of a business that decided NOT to run with the herd, and instead do something completely out-of-the box when it comes to internet marketing.