business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

“Mom, here’s $25. I just texted Haiti to 90999 on my cell phone.”

Within minutes of the earthquake that devastated Haiti and her people, the power of social networking was felt around the world. Many of the first stunning reports and shocking images were sent via the internet, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Emergency workers, government officials and news organizations relied on cell phones and tweets to communicate when power and phone lines came crashing down. Families combed through Facebook pages for news of loved ones, the missing and the found.

We no longer relied on the network news stations or CNN to bring the tragedy into our living rooms – the heartbreak of Haiti was omnipresent, on our laptop, PDA and cell phone. The video clip of a 7-year-old boy named Kiki, pulled from the rubble after almost eight days with his arms outstretched with joy, telegraphed a message of hope in the darkest of times.

And we responded online, on Facebook and Twitter, and on our cell phones.  My 14-year-old daughter handed over $25 in babysitting earnings after she texted Haiti to 90999 for the American Red Cross effort, and pledged another $75 online after the Hope for Haiti Now telethon. Haitian singer Wyclef Jean urged his 1.3 million Twitter followers to donate by text and performed the final number in the star-studded telethon, which netted $57 million. (The telethon drew 16 million viewers on broadcast stations, and 20 million live streaming on the internet.) The American Red Cross reported that of the $171 million it had raised by Monday, a record $29 million came from texted donations.

Social networking provided a new sense of immediacy for us to respond to the crisis. Here at MNB, we often write about how retailers, marketers and service providers need to understand the speed and power of social networking, and harness it to create a two-way dialogue with the consumer. It’s changing the way we operate in our business and personal lives.

And therein lies the challenge. For millions of shoppers, the front line of donating is still at their supermarket checkout. But it is essentially a one-way transaction. You ask the cashier to add $5 or $10 to your bill, and that is the end of the experience. How much money was was raised? Where did the contributions go? Did our community of shoppers or team of employees make a difference?

In my next column, we will look at the retailers which utilized social networking to take that experience to the next step, generating good will with their shoppers and employees on Facebook, Twitter and their websites. Or as one Walmart cashier wrote on Facebook:  “I collected over $100 today at my register. Thank you to the customers who are willing to donate. God bless!”

If you have any other examples of how social networking played a role in Haiti fund-raising efforts, please email me at .
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