How the Red Cross Uses Social Media for Disaster Response and Engaging Donors

By Joe Ciarallo


On Monday, April 20th, the American Red Cross opened its new Digital Operations Center in San Jose, CA. The California center joins existing Red Cross Digital Operations Centers in Texas and Washington, DC, allowing the organization to use social media and social data to help solve a broad range of humanitarian issues, including a new project to use social data to engage Red Cross blood donors.

A social media panel at the unveiling of the Red Cross Digital Operations Center in San Jose, CA

The new Digital Operations Center provides a hub of expertise on the West Coast where volunteers can work with their emergency manager partners to provide social data for regional responses. Salesforce has a long history of partnership with the Red Cross, and it’s clear that the organization understands that with mobile and social tools, the average citizen can now play a key role in helping others during emergencies and other times of need.

The Red Cross is “constantly innovating and evolving,” said Suzy Di Francis, chief public affairs officer, American Red Cross, at the Digital Operations Center launch, noting that social media is “no longer just a tool or amusement, it’s a life saving device in disaster response and recovery.” DiFrancis also noted Red Cross’ pioneering use of texts for donations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and how the organization just launched a new comprehensive emergency app.

With the Digital Operations Centers, employees monitor more an average of more than 5,000 to 7,000 posts that mention the Red Cross daily, in addition to posts about related topics of interest that do not directly mention the organization. The Red Cross has trained more than 250 digital volunteers, in addition to its full-time staff, to harness power of social media for more effective disaster response.

How do they do it?

The Red Cross team works closely with Dell Digital Business Services, who helps the Red Cross optimize their social presence using the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. “The biggest challenge is sifting through the noise in all of the data to get to critical path activities that influence a business process,” said Burk Buechler, Director, Business Innovation Services Dell, Inc.

“We have an internal team of four,” said Curtis Midkiff, Jr., Director of Social Engagement, American Red Cross. “And we look at four things. First, we need to do social listening, and we use Salesforce and other tools for better listening. Second, we also do social customer care — getting information to people interested in a CPR class for example, who may not have mentioned us directly, but we know we can help. Third, we use social for storytelling. Fourth, we’re moving from social reach to social relationships. We’re constantly thinking about how we build deeper relationships via these platforms.”

“What social can do different than any other channel is that on a daily basis we can fill people in on what the Red Cross does. Every day we can tell something different, and do it where people are spending time. They don’t have to come to our website,” he said.

What’s the next step for the Red Cross?

Salesforce.org CEO Rob Acker, speaking at the launch event said he agrees that the Red Cross will continue to innovate, and it can affect social outcomes by focusing on three things. “First, we are living in a world where many nonprofits have silos of data and it’s difficult to bring them down. Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in last two years. How do you turn it into something you can use?” he said. “Second, how do you leverage concept of open, connected social world. Constituents expect to engage with you in any way and you need to be there for them. The third thing is how do you show an impact from donors. When you show how your investments are influencing the bottom line, donors will be more engaged and give even more.”

“It’s not just about disaster response, but about affecting social outcomes. How can we take social data and use that to increase the pool of blood donors?” said Laura Howe, Vice President, Public Relations, American Red Cross.

The Red Cross supplies nearly 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply and maintaining a steady supply of donors is vital to supplying the needs of blood recipients nationwide. The Red Cross will now optimize their social presence to attract new blood donors, encourage more blood drives and help existing blood donors to expand their relationship with the Red Cross.

Visit Redcross.org to learn more about how you can support the Red Cross as a blood donor and to help your neighbors through social media before, during and after a disaster.


Download the free Salesforce e-book to learn more about how your non-profit can #win at social with four simple steps.