Social Media Lessons from Leadership 18

I had the opportunity last week to speak at the annual gathering of Leadership 18, a membership group of the nation’s largest health and human service providers. Gloria Johnson-Cusack, the CEO of the organization, asked me to address the following question: Our members are dipping their toes into the social media waters; so what?

I asked three of the participating organizations to share stories of their use of social media in the past year. Here’s what they shared and what we learned:

American Red Cross. Of course, Wendy Harman was a font of information and thoughtful reflections! Wendy shared their nascent digital volunteer program. On a regular day, the American Red Cross is mentioned over 3,000 times across the social web. During a natural disaster, that number soars over 150,000. No organization would have the staff to respond to the questions, concerns, demands, misinformation this much conversation generates. Wendy piloted a digital volunteer program last spring. Volunteers sign up for four-hour shifts to answer questions, refer questioners to Red Cross information, thank volunteers, have conversations with people who are scared and lonely. Here is the job description Wendy posted for digital volunteers:

Preferred Capabilities:

- You have a personal Twitter  account and you’re not afraid to talk with Red Cross stakeholders
- You’re adept at searching on Twitter
- You’re familiar with Red Cross relief efforts for Hurricane Irene (or you’re willing to study CrossNet to become that way)


- Monitor Twitter for keywords like Redcross, “Red Cross”, #hurricane, #irene
- At the end of each 4-hour shift you’ll provide a short summary of the trends you’re seeing in conversations.
- Using your personal twitter account, you are asked to respond to any questions you feel comfortable with (the resources on CrossNet for Hurricane Irene are great for finding answers).

There are currently 200 digital volunteers, and the Red Cross is aiming to increase this number this year.

There are so  many aspects of this digital volunteer program I love. Identifying and training a cadre of volunteers to jump into action at a moment’s notice is so smart. Making sure people are heard, recognized, thanked, helped in a great time of need it exactly what the Red Cross does – and here are a whole new set of communication channels to make sure that happens.

At the meeting, there was a great discussion of ways other organization that aren’t in the natural disaster biz could use this model. In particular, we discussed ways home bound seniors could be “touched” by volunteers using email on a regular basis. How nice would it be to wake up and have a happy message via email from a new friend.

Here are some tweets Wendy shared of people in distress during last hurricane season.