Think User-First for Social Good: Digital Relief for Hurricane Harvey Victims

Nicole Spears, Social Media Strategist

Social channels continue to democratize online influence with new features and original content. It’s easy to believe companies like Facebook and Google hold the power here, but it’s often the users who influence true digital change. Take, for example, Facebook’s creation of their Town Hall feature that was inspired by studying user behavior.

Meaningful innovation must be centered upon solving a key user need. Marketers, and consequently their advertising platforms or social media channels, simply do their best to follow suit. So, as Hurricane Harvey moved in on the Texas coast last week, several upstanding companies offered the unique capabilities of their platforms to help victims of the natural disaster. However, even more interesting were examples of collective digital networks that took on a power all their own to set social good in motion.

These recent digital relief efforts dedicated to Hurricane Harvey displayed the continued progression of how we use digital channels for good. Here are just a few examples we came across. 

1. The Facebook donation drive. Facebook uses the power of your own network to compel you to take part - whether that’s encouraging donating to your friends’ mini-drive or the “contagion” factor of seeing which of your friends have already donated through the tool. Facebook is matching Hurricane Harvey donations made from its platform, up to $1 Million. Facebook also turned on its Safety Check feature, allowing local users to connect more easily with national friends and family while traditional means of communication may have proven more difficult.

facebook hurricane harvey

2. Connecting families with the relief goods they need most with Amazon’s public Lists feature. “Every item on this list is going directly to the victims of Hurricane Harvey.” How’s that for a solve to effective altruism? Sure, retail mark up is still a factor, but Amazon’s Lists feature allowed flood victims to prioritize the products they needed most. Then, this registry-like system shows users interested in making a donation the priority level of each item, alongside the remaining amount needed. While the Red Cross and Amazon teamed up to offer a donation match up to $1 Million with their own List, users took it upon themselves to create new Lists with this feature as well. Since the Lists are easy to share, activists like Shaun King had the ability to create virality for this donation option by using trending topics on Twitter.

shaun king tweet

3. Targeting donors from their digitally-identified interests. While there’s still plenty of widespread relief needed, there has been increased willingness to connect with possible donors through a cause they’ve previously identified with socially. For example, local Columbus startup Aunt Flo matching Hurricane Harvey donations with menstrual kits, or animal shelters across the nation using their email databases or Facebook communities to raise funds for displaced pets.


love what matters facebook

4. Using social to dispel rumors and call for help. Local and federal agencies were strapped to meet the growing calls for search and rescue, so users turned to social channels to gain information and to seek aid. The City of Houston used Twitter to quell rumors of shelters requiring immigration papers for rescue, and several local police officials updated the digital community with live streams and text updates. Meanwhile, individuals in need of rescue turned to Facebook Groups or live videos to seek escape from the rising flood waters. Location-based features made it easy to share maps or drop pins for easier communication. One young girl even used Siri to contact the Coast Guard in the midst of her family’s flood and her own sickle cell attack.

Natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey leave victims nearly resourceless. Without reliable transportation, food and shelter or access to local search and rescue, the use of digital tools and networks allowed many to call for - and offer - safety.

In Columbus and looking to give to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort? Consider attending the Columbus Agency Ball, an event benefiting victims in Southeast Texas, on September 19th. If you’re not local, consider offering an Extra Love donation for the event.




Nicole Spears

Nicole Spears Social Media Strategist