This past weekend I attended one of the coolest conferences that I’ve been lucky enough to attend so far in my relatively young “conference career”; the social media focused PodCamp Cincinnati which, conveniently enough for me, was held on a Saturday morning in the building I work in!
When I woke up that morning, I had second thoughts about going because I didn’t really feel like being in my place of work on a weekend morning. But I decided to suck it up (nice academic term, I know) and go.
I could not be happier about that decision to go; it turned out to be a great, great day. It seems as if this attendee thought the same. While the dominant focus of the conference was social media in the context of business (i.e. marketing) and my personal focus is more on social media and the news and also social media and communication theory, I still took a lot of cool ideas away.
I won’t discuss the details of the conference here, but I mention it because the passion of the people there (who were all social media nerds) and a current event combined to inspire today’s blog entry.
This is Not Your Grandfather’s Farm
At the above conference, I attended a lecture entitled “Advocacy + Agriculture + Social/New Media = Agvocacy 2.0″ by John Blue of Truffle Media. During this presentation, Mr. Blue showed us a few different examples of how people from the agricultural sector are using new media to spread awareness about the importance of farming to the United States economy and lifestyle. For example, he mentioned @zweberfarms, which is the Twitter account of a fourth generation American dairy farm. Most of the tweets consist of the farmers sharing with the world their daily routines and lives. For example, below is a screenshot of some of the images that @zweberfarms shares with the world.
I absolutely love the fact that American famers are beginning to use social media to teach the rest of us lazy bums about the importance of the work they do for us on a daily basis. This is a great example of using new media for the greater good. Below is another, and arguably more serious, example and it is related to the recent earthquake in eastern Turkey.
Twitter & Turkey: Using New Media to do Good
A few days ago a strong earthquake struck far eastern Turkey in the city of Van and the surrounding area. The latest news on the matter is reporting that more than 400 are dead and more than 1,300 injured, and this number is unfortunately expected to rise as rescue operations continue. The potential of new media, especially Twitter in this case, to do good in the world has been displayed in the aftermath of this earthquake.
Today’s Zaman, an English-language daily Turkish news source, reported how journalist Ahmet Tezcan started a Twitter campaign for those who had lost their homes in the earthquake. You can check out the original article here. Mr. Tezcan started the hashtag #EvimEvindirVan, which means “My home is your home, Van” because he had extra space and he offered it to those who had been left homeless after the quake.
For those of you who have not converted to Twitter yet, the hashtag (the “#” in front of a word) means that the phrase is automatically grouped with all the other mentions of that phrase by any other Twitter user in the world. This allows certain words to “trend”, or to become instantly popular as millions of Twitter users add the hashtag to the same phrase. The more people use the phrase, the more popular it becomes, and thus the louder and more far reaching the message can become. Check out this post if you want to read some more about hashtags.
#EvimEvindirVan is still trending; if you search for the phrase on Twitter you will see that people are mentioning it every few minutes.
Ahmet Tezcan, a Turkish reporter with close to 16,000 followers, posted a tweet offering his spare flat to a family in need and suggesting others do the same. Within hours, 20,000 people had emailed the ‘My house is your house’ (#EvimEvindirVan) campaign, offering their homes or spare rooms. The campaign’s success has been such that the Istanbul governor’s office has taken charge. There is now a 24-hour hotline where people can apply to stay or host.
It is amazing how quickly this idea spread, and how many people have potentially found a place to sleep only because of a Twitter hashtag. The same article discusses other ways in which Twitter has been used to help the recovery effort in Turkey.
The sheer number of people with their eyes on the wire creates pressure on companies to respond –and quickly. ‘Van needs drinking water. Still waiting for a water company to step up!’ read one tweet on the #van page. Shortly afterwards three water firms announced pledges of shipments to the region.
At the risk of giving you too many quotes, I will share a final one from the same article. Ms. Turgut discusses the Turkish earthquake of 1999, which killed tens of thousands of people, and talks about how media as we know it today did not yet exist (in the olden days of 1999!) She mentions how email was still the new thing in 1999 and that the inventor of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was only in high school. She then compares this to the media response after the earthquake a few days ago.
Contrast that to yesterday’s disaster. Hours after a 7.2 earthquake struck Van, in eastern Turkey, technologies whirred into motion that would have been unimaginable back then. Google has already reconfigured the person-finding tool it used in Haiti and Chile, allowing people to both request and post information about the safety of loved ones missing in the rubble. (Their system is currently tracking some 2,000 records.) Hashtags like #van, #deprem (earthquake in Turkish) trended instantly, and are being tweeted hundreds of times per second as people share information on how to help and what to donate. Groups like the Red Crescent (the Turkish equivalent of the Red Cross) and AKUT, a search-and-rescue organization have enabled one-click SMS donation services. On Facebook, users share updated information on aid requests – winter clothing, insulin, diapers — as filed by people on the ground in Van and have started pages listing bus and freight companies that are delivering aid packages free of charge.
It is not uncommon for people who study communication or social media (such as yours truly) to be asked about the merits of studying such topics instead of focusing on business management, psychology, engineering, chemistry, etc. I have written twice about what I study and why I think it’s important (here and here) and I continue to religiously defend communication as a discipline. It often helps to use practical examples of how communicative phenomena play a role in our world. New media tools such as Twitter can be really fun ways to communicate with our social circles. But communication through media is so much more than that, it can affect real change in our world.
New media can be used for tasks as simple as an American farmer tweeting about their daily routine to make sure that the rest of us support agriculture in this country to something as complex as organizing relief efforts after a humanitarian disaster. The main point is, new media (such as Twitter) is not just a fun and new tool for us to communicate with, but a potentially great improvement on how we can communicate with each other to do good things in the world.