Red Cross Reaches During Iowa Floods

There’s something great about seeing social media being used to make real differences in people’s lives, beyond branding and business. If you’ve not been aware, there’s quite a disaster happening in Iowa as floods are destroying the established infrastructure, buildings, and peoples homes.

The Red Cross is using these fast-to-publish tools to get the word out, keep the community coordinated, and to raise funds for the rebuilding effort, which obviously hasn’t even started as the waters continue to threaten the area.

They’ve created a blog for this specific disaster, which has pictures, blog posts, RSS feeds per each disaster area, alerts, and videos of relief works. Also they’ve a Redcross twitter account that gives updates, and interviews right from those impacted using Utterz (mobile audio), we can hear their first hand accounts rather through the words of a reporter often hundreds of miles away.

This Iowafloods site, which isn’t related to Redcross but is aggregating media, voices, tweets, and pictures from the event, gives a solid look at the damage in the area.

I’ve started to notice more and more non-profits starting to use these tools, they are inexpensive, reach people quickly, and spread rapidly. What’s really interesting is that many non-profits’ use of social media is than sophisticated than many Fortune 1000 companies, who often, have the same goals.

If you feel touched by these people in need, you can always donate resources, clothes, food, volunteer, donate blood or money to your local chapter. Lastly, spreading the word from your own blog is yet another way to help, and it costs so little.

  • Great post. The larger nonprofits and charities are definitely doing a better job with social media than many big companies. However, the smaller and mid-sized orgs don’t have the budget to hire consultants and invest in technology. Thankfully, there are some excellent new business models addressing these needs.

    One is Make The Difference Network; another is, and a third is good2gether. Each are tackling the problem in different ways, and it’s an exciting market space…the nexus of social media and green living.

  • Chris Rottler

    Great post and awesome blog (thanks!). I’m in the process of writing a paper for my Internet strategies course, spefically about not-for-profits’ use of Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, social-networking, RSS feeds, etc. to increase membership, fundraising and create their online presense. I too am amazed at how well some NGOs have taken on to the new media, as well as integrating these online tools to their mission and organizational structure. The Red Cross’ work is an excellent example!

  • Ike

    Max — in the case of the Red Cross, there has been very little investment in technology, and no hiring of consultants. Everything the Red Cross is doing now started at the extremely small scale of local chapters with tiny budgets.

    If a local chapter can do it, so can your “mid-sized orgs.” Just don’t want people to get the impression that the Red Cross is spending boatloads of cash to do something that a local soup kitchen couldn’t.

  • As one of those nonprofits, One Economy Corporation, we first responded to the Katrina disaster with the Katrina Help Center, which won a Webby and eventually took down after the initial recovery. We then partnered with Policy Link on the creation of the Louisiana Rebuilds (, which is still providing assistance and spun out into its own nonprofit.

    For the Southern California fires, we returned with SoCalHelpCenter that focused on recovery and rebuilding information. Once that disaster was under control we closed down that site, but made a number of functional tweaks that would allow us to roll it out within 12-24 hours.

    Our experience was that there was a gap in the marketplace in providing information. The instant response of aggregation sites give people a clear(er) picture of the disaster in progress. The Red Cross and other first responders are providing better online access to their own recovery programs, as does the City, State, feds, etc.

    However, what is missing is “aggregator/honest broker” for longer-term recovery. Initial disaster responses are highly organized affairs that suffer from poor outreach. However, longer-term recovery efforts suffer from excessive fragmentation AND poor accessibility, especially when people are spread across a large geographic region.

    In this regard, Louisiana Rebuilds is a perfect example of a long-term recovery information source. Between the immediate recovery and the long-term, that is where we fit our own Help Center site.

  • Jeremiah, how’d you find IowaFloods site? Is it preferable to an official media Web site? If so, why? Hope you don’t mind the questions. (FYI: I work for media company in Cedar Rapids,Iowa, and am experimenting with social media. Floodwaters were within 12 feet of the building.)

  • Jeremiah –

    This is an excellent post.

    Since nonprofits have a reliance on working with unpaid volunteers, I think it absolutely makes sense that they are deploying social networking strategies better than corporations. Nonprofits have a real need to increase donations, engage volunteers, and maintain a profile in a competitive media marketplace.

  • Annette This came to me from Twitter, where I was wishing you all luck and others tweeted the websites. Glad you’re safe.

    Jenn, agreed, these tools are cheap to deploy successfully –but VERY expensive when done wrong.

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  • Thanks for the mention of Red Cross social media, Jeremy! We, the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross, are one of those small chapters Ike referred to. We cover Portland, Oregon and its surrounding counties, and we’ve been growing our new media efforts for about a year now, with a blog (which has been quite successful – even winning awards!), a flickr, a youtube, a twitter etc.

    Chris (or anyone else), if you’d like to talk to us about what we’re doing (or suggest things we could do to improve) feel free to email me at

    Here are our sites…

    Facebook and Myspace soon to come.

  • And, oh, my apologies… I just realized that I typed “Jeremy” when I meant to type “Jeremiah.” Sometimes the fingers work faster than the brain.

  • Thanks Robin, you’re also doing great stuff, thanks for this. No worries about the name.

  • Perhaps non-profits are using social media because they understand better than large corporations that people buy (or in their case, donate) based on emotion, and social media allows you to make a connection.

    However, even if non-profits are using social media at a higher rate, they are not employing it frequently enough. At a recent non-profit networking event I recently attended, many of the people I met who worked at other larger (and much better funded) non-profits were amazed we had a blog (the Volunteer Boston blog).

    My guess is that there is just enough red tape at some of the larger NGOs to make blogs a headache to start and maintain. Because our group is very small and completely volunteer-run, our guidelines are a lot looser. Plus, with smaller budgets we are more likely to aggressively pursue newer and more risky free publicity options.

    Either way – thanks for starting the conversation on NGOs and social media, Jeremiah.

    And the links:

  • The University of Iowa is also using many types of social media during the floods (and day-to-day) as well. They’ve moved their New Services photos to Flickr and are blogging to keep interested parties up to date. If a University can do it, a company sure can.

    UI News Flickr:
    UI Blog:

  • I’ve been in the clean up process of the 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids IA. The Red Cross does not get enough credit for what they do. They are there all day long as we work providing cases of water, clean up kits, hot meals, snacks, anti-bacterial wipes etc….. I think if you asked them to help you lift this or carry that they wouold do it. I used to spread out my donations to various charities but I will now concentrate all my donations to the American Red Cross. We couldn’t continue to work on re-establishing our community without them. Thanks for all your support.

  • My best friend Sam lives in Des Moines and is going through a very difficult few weeks. He’s been telling me about how the community is trying to progress. I think it’s great that Red Cross is helping people in Iowa’s flood disaster. I heard about the kosher meatpacking company, AgriProcessors who carry Aaron’s Best foods, worked with them to give food out to the devastated communities nearby. Right now, everyone seems to be trying to help and maybe its Bush’s turn next.

  • I was a victim of this years flood. Fema was excellent and did help me . The Red Cross was very rude to me and informed me that I was not in a flood area! They refused to even contact Fema or help me in any way. Not only that but the person they sent to check out my home came when I could not be there. They went inside and then when they left did not close the door leaving the few things I had left at risk. I filed a complaint over the phone and they have never even had the courtesy to reply to the complaint! Ithink there assistance is a bad joke.