Last week, our operations manager, Nyla Spooner, sat down with Bill Tatar, web and social media manager for Cox Media Group, to discuss social media’s role in how individuals, brands and even traditional news outlets communicated during Hurricane Harvey. We explored how social media changed the way we ask for help, the amount of information available to us and our ability to help others. This week, we continue the conversation by looking further into how brands can and did react during a natural disaster.

If you missed it, check out part 1 here.

Nyla — We were talking earlier about an organization, I won’t say its name, but that maybe didn’t grow with the times, didn’t grow with the way that social media is effecting communication. And so, I think that’s a big point, too. And the reason people are looking to grassroots organizations that are forming now, it’s because some of these older organizations just didn’t take the time to learn how to navigate the space that we’re in.

Bill — Well, for example, the Cajun Navy.

Cajun Navy Logo

Nyla — Yeah.

Bill — For example, that came out of just a necessity that the bigger organizations, FEMA wasn’t able to get to. So, it’s the same thing here. If Red Cross can’t help, then maybe someone can develop something that will work for us faster.

Nyla — And even if it’s just in the meantime. So, a big thing about some of the organizations that I was helping is that we wanted to fill gaps. So, we don’t have the funding to help you fix your entire home, but maybe we can give you a month’s worth of meals. Because that’s not something that FEMA is gonna necessarily give you. Or maybe they are, but they just haven’t called you back yet.

Bill — True.

Nyla — So, a lot of these grassroots organizations find out who needs help from social media and then fills those gaps.

Bill — Well, I think a perfect example is, it’s grassroots to a degree, Gallery Furniture. You know, Mattress Mack came on, and out of nowhere he offered his stores as shelters. And it’s almost kind of unheard of. When you think about it, it’s a retail store. How often do you think of someone opening up their doors to let people sleep and live there for an extended amount of time?

Mattress Mack

Nyla — But then again, it makes perfect sense.

Bill – Well, it does, exactly. But that was a brand that he has built this reputation out of being local, and for the people, and not just someone there to money grab and take advantage of people, and sell them, sell them, sell them, whatever. I mean, he genuinely cares about his customers, his friends, his people. I thought that was brilliant. And he’s still doing it.

Nyla — Right.

Bill — To this day, and then some. I mean, it’s something that will go on forever. But you hate to think of it, it’s not altruistic of him. I mean, he’s gonna benefit from it, no question. But it was a good thing that he did. It was really well needed. So, I think that was something that it shows the goodness out of his heart, but then I think if it wasn’t for social media, that message would never have gotten out as quickly as it did.

Nyla — ‘Cause I saw him hopping on Facebook Live periodically to update what was going on, if they were still open, who could come. I think he gave some routes for how to get there.

Bill — But you could never buy television spots that fast. You couldn’t even buy radio spots that fast and we’re quick. I think it was actually really brilliant the way that worked out.

Nyla — Yeah, and half of the information that you need to maybe save your life or get a meal, I got it all from Facebook. And I didn’t even touch Twitter because I couldn’t be in that many spaces, but I’m sure Twitter was busy, and people were putting rescue requests there too. So, I think every mode of social media was being used at the time.

Bill — It was. I’m just glad that we had enough people to respond to it, and watch the different things, and try to get as much out as possible. And now it’s in the recovery mode. You still have the same thing because, especially a few days afterwards, everyone was asking for money, relief, donations, this and that. And it was almost to a point where it was very hard to cull through all of them and find the ones that were legitimate. I’m sure there were some that weren’t legitimate. But you just didn’t know there was so much of a need. So, that’s why it was important that get the message out, ask your friends, “Hey, have you heard of this group? “They’re asking for stuff.” I have no idea who they are. I don’t know if I want to be giving my hard earned money to some place that maybe didn’t. But if your friends vouch for them on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram, then you know what? You tend to more go, “You know what? “Let’s give them a shot. “I think they need it.”

Nyla — A big thing, so the Facebook Group that I started, originally, before I even could get out on the ground to help, I was like, I want to help with information. And so, I got as many people as I could to help me just go through all the stuff floating around on Facebook and put it into one Google Drive that everybody could access. And so, if they needed to know where to go for shelters, or where to drop off donations, they could go to that Google Drive, and everything was vetted.

Bill — That’s great.

Nyla — At one point I had to take it down because things were changing so rapidly we couldn’t keep it updated.

Bill — You can’t keep up.

Nyla — But for a long time, I’m really proud of what we were able to do to help people they had all this stuff they wanted to give, but they didn’t know where to go. And so, having just a spreadsheet where you could go down and be like, “Okay, this is close to where I work. “Can drop it off after work,” was really, I think, really helped a lot of people. So, in every aspect of, I don’t know if Google Docs counts as social media, but…

Bill — Well, you know, but it’s sharable, so technically, yeah, because everyone can access it. I think the message that, when I emailed Tiffany about this, was simply that I think when you have a social media account, and you’re keeping track of it, you really do have to keep track of it, you have to be on it. Because yes, we saw this storm coming, and you can prep. But the amount of rain that fell in the amount of time, I think you have to have spent time on the site, you have to sit there and answer. You could not have just put up something, and then leave and never respond to people. Because in the time of need, people need other people. And for you just to be a brand that was just there in the good times, and then threw up something when something bad happens, oh, you know, whatever, I think that’s where it falls flat. I think if you really have to walk the walk and talk the talk, you have to consistently work at it and always be there. Especially if you’re asking for people to follow you, and like you, and buy, and all the other stuff, throughout the rest of the year, then you’ve gotta be with them in the bad times and the good times. And there are a lot of brands that didn’t, a lot of brands that fell apart.

Nyla — Yeah.

Bill — You know, and I think this was a good testament to say, you gotta do it.

Nyla — Yeah. I mean, it’s not easy at all, because it’s called a disaster for a reason. And so, I think I’m not surprised by brands that aren’t able to handle it, because there’s plenty of us who weren’t able to handle what was going on. But, it is a relief to see brands that, like you said, are there from beginning to end.

Bill — Yeah.

Nyla — Because, I will say I had a lot of support for the first two weeks, and then people had to go back to their lives, they had to go back to selling, or you know, buying for their family.

Bill — Unless you were personally affected, life goes on.

Nyla — Your life had to go on, which I totally understand. But brands that are really able to continue to help, are the lifeline for some of us.

Well, I wanna thank Bill for being here today, so that we could talk about how social media changed the way we communicate during a disaster. Today we talked about how social media changed the way people ask for help during a storm, we also talked about how it changed the way we saw the storm. And finally, we talked about how brands can react using social media during a disaster like this. I truly believe social media fundamentally changed how we communicate during a natural disaster. Thank you for watching this episode of Twice Tips, and we’ll see you in the next episode.

If you missed it, check out part 1 here.