Can Social Media Serve a Purpose When Tragedy Strikes?

Social Media

Social media is about connections—keeping in touch with those we care about. In business, this certainly includes our customers and employees. Although most of our posts could be categorized as “light entertainment,” sometimes the expansive reach of social provides the perfect forum to make a real difference.

When Hurricane Harvey blasted Texas on August 17, it was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Wilma in 2005. More than 40 inches of rain fell in many areas in just four days as Harvey slowly meandered across the state, causing catastrophic flooding. Hundreds of thousands of homes were affected, displacing more than 30,000 people and prompting more than 17,000 rescues. There were 77 confirmed deaths. Economic losses are still being measured but are estimated to be between $70 and $200 billion.

The tragedy is overwhelming and leaves many wondering what, if anything, can be done to help.

This is when social media really can make a difference. Many businesses have hundreds if not thousands of followers, who each have their own large number of followers. Ultimately, what is the benefit to this reach?

“Once we knew that people who needed this stuff were actually going to get it, we reached out to the community on social,” Crossley said.

It might not be posting words of encouragement or sending prayers and good thoughts for those involved, which could be seen as “Hey, look how concerned and kind we are,” or worse, as a subtle opportunity to sell. Some customers could be offended by words like “prayers,” and although you do want to be yourself on social, as a business it’s best to remain as neutral as possible and think about everyone’s perception.

Where social really works in these situations is when your business wants to take definite action, like the team at Gary Crossley Ford did immediately after Harvey hit.

“It was a big shock how bad things really were down there,” Dealer Principal Todd Crossley said. “Everybody wanted to help.”

Crossley knew that giving money was an option, but that it’s not always possible to know exactly where the money is going and how it’s being used. He decided to take a more direct approach, partnering with John Ferguson of Ferguson Properties to collect basic necessities that so many were left completely without.

The two wanted to do it right, so they enlisted the help of the Teamsters Joint Council #56, True North Hotel Group, ABF Freight, and others to iron out all the details, like how to transport the items and where to take them.

One of the requirements was that items couldn’t be sent singly—they had to be on a pallet, wrapped. Knowing that nobody would buy an entire wrapped pallet of anything, Crossley’s team knew they would need to find a way to clear this hurdle. They decided to move forward without wasting any time.

“Once we knew that people who needed this stuff were actually going to get it, we reached out to the community on social,” Crossley said. “We told them we have a safe, reliable place to give food and other necessities.”

The response was overwhelming. Gary Crossley Ford’s showroom soon became a storage space for all of the food and supplies. The Facebook post caught the attention of friends at Price Chopper, a local grocery store, who donated plastic to wrap the items, which ABF offered to pallet.

In all, nine pallets were wrapped up, packed up, and trucked down to Texas about a week after the hurricane hit.

Social media allows us to connect with people online and in real life. In times of tragedy, it can serve as a tool that can be used to help our friends, our neighbors, our community, and our country, if people are willing to take action.

“It was a big shock how bad things really were down there,” Dealer Principal Todd Crossley said. “Everybody wanted to help.”

Joey Little
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Joey Little

Joey Little is well-known in the automotive industry for creating leading-edge social and digital media marketing, advertising, and communication strategies, and is a sought-after speaker on these topics at premier auto retail workshops worldwide. Working closely with the metal-movers and wrench-turners at dealerships across the nation, Joey’s integrated perspective on how dealerships operate at a core level offers valuable insights to the industry.
Joey Little
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