The Benefits of Social Media in Times of Tragedy

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Today, on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick, we had a compelling conversation in the aftermath of recent tragedies about the importance of social media efforts by the Catholic Church, local charitable organizations, and you and me — the faithful. As usual, I turned to my online friends at Twitter and Facebook for their ideas on these topics and was greeted by a wealth of practical inspiration.

We’ve seen in recent days and in the past few years compelling arguments for having a social media infrastructure in place when tragedy strikes:

  • Tech “alert” systems such as emergency text message alerts but also Facebook and Twitter DMs can quickly and virally spread the message in advance of a tragedy.
  • As my Twitter friend “Warm Southern Breeze” underscored, the ability to mobilize “boots on the ground” via social media can have an immediate impact.
  • Facbook pages like the one created by the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Catholic Charities of St. Louis provide an easy and effective place to share  news updates, volunteer and donation needs, and especially words of comfort and prayer for the faithful who truly need them during these difficult times.
  • As my Twitter friend Maria pointed out, those impacted by tragedy become on the scenes reporters and often generate photos and video that put a very human face on devastation.

 

Earlier this week, my Facebook friend Steve was able to not only maintain contact with his sister who’d sought shelter from the storms in Oklahoma City — Steve also kept lines of communication open when the shelter’s comm system was limited, relaying radar news and other helpful information to those in the eye of the storm. He and his sister kept in touch by tweet and by text when phone lines went down.

In their “Disaster Strikes!” tips for helping in the aftermath of a calamity, Catholic Charities USA specifically points to the benefit of employing social media:

Update your friends on the crisis situation, solicit donations and keep the buzz going. Successes come from connecting needs with people and companies that can help. You never know what might happen if the right person reads your tweet about an organization needing diapers or a Facebook post you share about a family who lost everything.

Unfortunately, many parishes and dioceses have not yet taken the very simple and absolutely free steps of creating social media infrastructures that can be easily implemented when the need presents itself. Thankfully, doing this is quick and easy. I’d recommend the following ways to help spread information in good times and in bad:

  • Diocesan Facebook page
  • Diocesan Twitter feed
  • Diocesan Flickr page
  • Diocesan Youtube profile
  • Diocesan website with links to these official social media presences and the ability to quickly embed them in local parish or even individual blogs and websites
  • A team of volunteers in place who can quickly update these online presences via mobile device immediately prior to and following emergency events

 

Each of us can look at our own parishes and see that resources are stretched thin and that all hands are needed on deck. I’m calling on my fellow Catholic geeks to reach out to your local parishes and dioceses and offer your support now, before it’s needed. We’re each invited to employ our unique talents and treasures in this new evangelization – I can’t think of a finer way than to help our Church have a social media presence that is not only up to date, but also one that is prepared to effectively respond when the need is greatest. If you are a social media aficionado, contact your parish and your diocese today to see what plans they have in place and how you might volunteer to be a part of their communications strategy. If you have a personal presence online, position your network to do good, to help, to spread the word, and to pray for those impacted when disasters strike.

I would also point you to the amazing book Prayer in the Digital Age for a true primer on using technology tools in your personal spiritual life, but also how we as Church can and should be responding to and implementing social media tactics.

Does your diocese or local parish do a great job of employing social media to minister to the faithful? Tell me about it? Also, what success stories have you seen around the web that show how these tools are being used most effectively?

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

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