Haiti Earthquake Relief Made Personal

Haiti Earthquake Relief Appeal

The news about the Haiti earthquake is overwhelming. The devastation is unfathomable.

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In a disaster of this magnitude, we all want to help. But sometimes we can be come paralyzed, for a couple of basic reasons:

  1. We feel that with the greatness of the need, our contribution can’t make much of a difference, or
  2. We hear reports of Internet fundraising scams that use the disaster to defraud the generous.

While social media can be used to perpetrate the con jobs, their real power is to enable those who care to give meaningfully and with confidence.

You can give to charities endorsed by people you know, or by people the people you know, know.

I know that last sentence is really awkward, but take a minute to think about it. And while you’re thinking, here’s a story that will help drive it home.

I met Tom Vanderwell (@tvanderwell) last year via Twitter, as described here. Having met on Twitter on a Sunday night, we had coffee together in his home town, which is nearly 500 miles from mine, the following Wednesday. And when I returned to Grand Rapids, MI in August for my granddaughter Evelyn’s birthday, I went to Tom’s house to interview him via Flip video for this post on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.

While there, I met Tom’s youngest children, Abby and Isaac, whom he and his wife had adopted from Haiti. Cheryl and their older daughter were on a mission trip in Haiti at the time I visited him, which is why I needed to meet Tom at his home: he had to be there with his adopted kids. I also learned that Tom was involved as a member of the board of the Haitian orphanage, God’s Littlest Angels.

So when I got the message pasted at the top of this post from Tom yesterday via Facebook, I took notice. It brought the disaster one step closer to me, because I knew someone actively working to provide relief. And I knew that the projects he would be supporting would be well-run, economical and wouldn’t involve a lot of administrative overhead. In short, I knew that whatever I gave would be well spent.

As you’ll note, Tom also asked us to invite friends to help, whether it’s 10 people giving $100 or 100 giving $10.

That’s where you come in.

I’m not going to suggest what you should give. You need to decide that on your own.

But I do want to assure you that whatever you send for God’s Littlest Angels will be used well, to meet real needs.

This shows something of the power of social media, in that through Twitter Tom and I created a personal relationship that led to meeting in real life, and also to maintaining that relationship through Facebook. And you should check out this post Tom did on another blog, about how he has been using social media in the aftermath of the earthquake, and how through Twitter he got the director of the orphanage in touch with @AnnCurry of NBC, which led to the Today story embedded above.

So now I’m inviting you to join me in a “Six Degrees of Trust” experiment.

  1. I know and trust Tom
  2. You know me (if you’ve been reading my blog regularly) and hopefully trust my judgment.
  3. You have your own circle of friends on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, who know and trust you.
  4. Your friends likewise have friends and followers.
  5. …who have friends and followers…
  6. …who have friends and followers…

So whereas Tom had some suggested steps for us who are his friends, here’s what I’m asking you:

  1. Give what you can to help God’s Littlest Angels. I have embedded the contribution widget at the bottom of this post.
  2. Post the link of this post to your Facebook wall, or send it directly to selected friends on Facebook.
  3. Send a Tweet about this effort. Here’s some suggested text you could copy and paste: Six Degrees of Trust: People you know helping orphans in #haiti #godslittlestangels http://bit.ly/4Fmtq1

I talked with Tom briefly this evening via Skype. He said the orphanage is currently over capacity, with 160 kids. Given the deaths resulting from this earthquake, it’s likely there will be dozens more children needing housing and help. I hope you’ll take a few moments now to help provide that help.

RAQ: Do You Need to Be Unique to Profit from Social Media?

At the FUEL social media meeting in Rochester, someone asked:

Don’t you really have to be special or unique to gain from social media? I mean, if there are 200,000 T-shirt vendors on Twitter, aren’t you going to waste a lot of time trying to get noticed? What if there is nothing that really sets you apart from others. Aren’t you going to be lost in the crowd, spending a lot of time for no gain?

Given that this presentation was in early July, I guess this question no longer fits the recency criterion for an RAQ, but I think it’s still a valid question to discuss. It also reminds me of something in the printed materials my son got when starting high school. It said something like, “You’re unique, just like everyone else,” which struck him as extremely funny.

It’s a reasonable question to ask, whether you have to be a major brand like Mayo Clinic or Dell to derive value from social media. And obviously an organization like Mayo Clinic has some significant advantages, such as passionate patients and employees and a history of making its reputation through word-of-mouth.

But as we heard from Tom Vanderwell yesterday, there’s plenty of opportunity for people to derive significant benefit from being engaged in social media, even if you’re selling something that is a commodity. After all, many people are just going to shop for the best interest rates online, and a loan is a loan is a loan. Through his blog, Tom has set himself apart from many of his local peers, and also has joined a network of national professionals involved in real estate and mortgages. Because others have come to know him through blogging, Facebook and Twitter, they trust him. And he’s getting business because of it.

So does that mean there is unlimited potential for all of the other mortgage lenders in western Michigan to profit similarly from social media? Nope. There will be some room for others, but they will need to establish “tweet cred.” And the community will pretty quickly sniff out those who are just into social media as a “quick buck” tactic. Social media make it free to communicate, but they also provide mechanisms for people to fight back against those who pollute the digital commons and don’t contribute meaningfully.

If you have a passion for a subject area (like Tom does with mortgages) and want to communicate about it in a way that helps others, you’ll probably do well with it. You don’t have to necessarily be unique; in fact, it helps to have at least a few others in your digital community so you can build off each other’s contributions.

And like Tom Vanderwell, you should think about how the advent of free and easy digital communications can help you conceive your business in a way that transcends geographic limitations.

Business Blogging ROI

“What’s the ROI?” is among the most common questions people in business have about social media (right after (Isn’t that risky?”) and as P.F. Anderson says, many of the benefits and costs are intangible.

I’ve previously written about my experience connecting with Tom Vanderwell and how I saw one of his tweets about being a Mayo Clinic patient, which led to me meeting him in Grand Rapids, MI a few days later. This post summarized some of the outgrowths from that first interaction. So I thought it would be helpful to share another video interview with Tom Vanderwell, who has used his Straight Talk about Mortgages and Real Estate blog (and Twitter) successfully in his mortgage lending career.

Tom doesn’t get into the exact dollar return he’s seen through blogging, but he gives examples of the business he’s gotten in states far beyond his western Michigan home base. I would venture that just one of those deals would pay his out-of-pocket costs for blogging for, to be conservative… 50 years.

Of course that doesn’t take his time into account. But in a business like his, where word-of-mouth matters, I’m also betting that some of the loans he has made have led to recommendations for others.

But most importantly, he’s finding a way to grow beyond his narrowly defined geographic base (and one where the economy is even worse than the rest of the country.) And he’s finding an outlet for his passion: he’s able to have a business that’s about helping people instead of always just pushing more loan volume. He can serve his customers and feel good about it.

I say that’s a great return.

The Value of Twitter, Part III: Tom Vanderwell on Twitter

In my last post I told the story of how listening through Twitter enabled me to meet Tom Vanderwell, and some of the neat outgrowths that have come from that fateful tweet.

So as part of this “Value of Twitter” series in honor of the publication of Twitterville by Shel Israel, I thought it would be a good idea to let you hear directly from Tom about how he uses Twitter and the benefits he’s seen. (In the last minute or so he also talks about how Facebook has been surprisingly helpful.)

How about you? How have you seen Twitter help you in your business or professional life?

The Value of Twitter, Part II: Listening and Connecting

In Part I of this series in honor of @shelisrael and his new book “Twitterville,” I said Twitter is valuable as a “recommendation engine” for interesting Web content. Many people see Twitter as a good way to broadcast messages from your organization, and we’ll get to some of those uses in later posts. But even before you’re ready to take the official plunge into active organizational use of Twitter, you can gather lots of information on what people are saying about your organization.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “You can hear a lot just by listening.”

I use Tweetdeck as my desktop productivity enhancer for Twitter for several reasons, as I describe in Twitter 106. (I like CoTweet and Hootsuite as Web-based power applications, particularly for advance scheduling of tweets.) Tweetdeck is great for listening and immediate interactions, and by setting up a fairly sensitive, highly specific search term in one of the panes (as described in Twitter 131) and putting that next to my “Mentions” pane I can see at a glance whether someone is tweeting about me, Mayo Clinic or @mayoclinic.

Picture 4

That’s how I met Tom Vanderwell (@tvanderwell) in March, as I described in this post at the time. He had mentioned Mayo Clinic in a tweet on a Sunday night, and because it came up in my Tweetdeck, and because I engaged with him in conversation, it led to us having a real-life meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich. just three days later.

What are the odds of something like that happening? I don’t know, but I can tell you for sure that they’re as close to zero as you can imagine if you’re not listening and engaging via Twitter.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Tom and I connected a couple more times in subsequent months…the first of which was when he joined us by phone for Tweetcamp II. A month or so later, when I was looking for examples of small businesses using social media, we interacted again by Twitter, phone and email, which led to this post.

We connected again earlier this month, when I traveled to Tom’s hometown of Grand Rapids to celebrate my granddaughter Evelyn’s first birthday. I tweeted Tom in advance, asking if he would be willing to get together so I could interview him for a couple of stories, and he quickly agreed.

So on Evelyn’s birthday, two weeks ago today, I stopped over at Tom’s home and interviewed him with his own Flip video camera (he had taken my advice from our March meeting and got one!) about his experience as a Mayo Clinic patient, and how he has used blogging and Twitter for his business.

Tom’s Mayo Clinic interview is here on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog. The next post in this series will feature Tom’s perspectives on Twitter, and later I will have another post on Tom’s use of blogging.

But let’s quickly review the benefits I’ve seen personally, just in this case, by listening and connecting through Twitter:

  • I’ve made a personal friend. Tom and I have a lot in common, as we’ve discovered in our two face-to-face meetings and via our electronic interactions.
  • I’ve learned from someone who is using social media in another industry, and how he is finding social media practical and profitable. And I’m getting to share those insights with you.
  • I’ve met a Mayo Clinic patient who was enthusiastic about sharing his experiences on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.

That’s a lot of value for my investment in Twitter…and it’s only one case study.