It was heart-breaking as the Chennai floods devastated homes and tore the city. Horace Mann said, “To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is God-like,” and a testimony to that was the great crowds that rose above being human and rallied to help. Food, clothing, support and love came pouring in from the ends of the earth and we salute all the helpers.
Social Media Advocacy played a pivotal role in turning around the damnation caused by the Chennai floods. This blog is a tribute to all those who harnessed the power of Social Media Advocacy and used it to ride out the storm.
The Power of Hashtags
Hashtags were the greatest tools in the campaign. The social networking community scanned for posts with the hashtags #chennairainshelp, #chennaivolunteer, #chennairains and #chennairescue.
People opened up their homes to those who were left homeless, and the call for refuge went out replete with specific hashtags.
Celebrities did their part in the relief efforts and christened their campaigns with hashtags of their own.
The #AreaUpdates hashtag was a great help in posting the status of areas that were reported to be inundated.
TLMTI (The Leprosy Mission Trust India) ran a social media campaign to raise funds to help people affected by leprosy because of the floods. The hashtag used was #TogetherForTamilNadu.
Giants pitch in
Social media giants such as Facebook did their share in lending a helping hand. Facebook activated its ‘Safety Check’ feature in Chennai. This allowed people in the city to mark themselves as ‘safe’ from the floods by clicking the option, ‘Yes, let my friends know’, which would notify their FB friends that they were safe.
Google pitched in too with its crisis response page. A link to the ‘Resources for the Chennai floods’ was posted on its homepage. This was a database which had information about relief camps and was a hotspot for information about the situation in the city.
Twitter did its part too by posting relevant information and giving its users an open communication with the team of Twitter India by means of the hashtag @TwitterIndia.
A Google spreadsheet listing offers for aid, appeals for rescue, helpline numbers, accommodation and volunteer details were put together by volunteers at Chennairains.org. This spreadsheet was shared widely through various social media channels and on the websites of media giants such as ‘The Hindu’.
Facebook groups such as Tamilnadu Flood – Support and TN Floods – Rehabilitation Phase were set up and proved to be a boon in sharing helpful information.
Companies rally around
Various companies took to social media to spread the news about their campaigns.
Zomato ran its ‘Meal for Flood relief’ delivery service for those stranded in the floods and spread the word through Twitter.
Paytm had its #staycharged campaign with people rallying around to recharge phones of people in Chennai. This was in addition to the company’s initiative to recharge any mobile number in Chennai for a free talktime of Rs 30.
There were many other corporates that used the power of social media to get relief campaigns up and running, but individuals played no small role either.
A crowdsourced effort brought together by Arun Ganesh, was set up to map inundated roads. Through this initiative, people were alerted about water logged areas and flood relief camps in the city.
Chennai Rains is an independent weather blogging community which was instrumental in keeping people regularly updated about the weather situation.
A new NSF-funded project – Social and Physical Sensing Enabled Decision Support for Disaster Management and Response, was put together by Professor Sheth and his team at the Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing. The technology was used to analyse crowdfunding and social media to benefit those who had their relatives and friends in Chennai by giving them area-specific information about conditions in the city.
Social media is a saviour in times of distress. During the Chennai floods, people have seen its power firsthand. Volunteer Harshitha Ravi aptly puts into words, “I feel like social media has been our saviour through all this. Even before heading out and helping, I had to check social media to ensure I was going to the right places, which required most help. Work online mainly includes circulating the right information and connecting demand with supply.”