6 Ways Social Media Helps People Help People

By Hootsuite


When tragedy strikes close to home, it impacts all of us on a basic human level. Regular work tends to seem unimportant and, unless you’re doing something to help those affected, insignificant.

It’s good to step back sometimes. It’s also good to be reminded of the positives when all you are exposed to and everything you read and watch seems focused on the negatives.

Whether that’s simply bringing a smile to our faces when we don’t much feel like smiling, or showing us how people unite in times of need, social media has given us plenty examples that help us, to use the Mr. Rogers quote, “look for the helpers.”

So we did exactly that. We didn’t have to look far to find examples of how social media helps the helpers; here are just a few examples:

1. Responding to and Coping with Tragedy

When two explosions claimed the lives of at least three people and injured over 150 others at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, social media erupted. Much of this was the shock and sadness you would expect after such an inexplicable tragedy.

But there were also numerous examples of people and communities coming together to respond and help as best they could. For many, it was simply sharing informational tweets from the Boston Police. For others, it involved sharing the phone numbers and addresses of local blood banks where they could go donate. For an inspiring number of others, it was about opening up their homes to anyone in the area who may have been in need of shelter.

On a more individual level, many used social media to connect with friends and loved ones, also sparing the overloaded cell phone towers in the region. Countless people also consoled one another and shared inspiring words to help with the coping process.

This response is far from over, yet it is already an incredible illustration of the inherent desire of people to help in a crisis, through whatever channels they have at hand. We saw the same types of incredible stories emerge from the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy. The use and positive impact of social media is growing with each disaster; helping to spread some hope where there was previously less of it to go around.

2. Offering Charity To Those In Need

For the many who rushed to give blood to the Boston Red Cross, and those who donated to campaigns for Japan and Haiti, social media has become a catalyst for charitable donations. From a grassroots effort by redditors to raise over $80,000 for an orphanage in Kenya, to the over $200,000 college fund raised for a 9-year-old named Caine after an inspiring video of him working hard on a homemade arcade went viral.

3. Opening New Lines of Communication

When a redditor with hearing loss lost her job and was forced to dip into money she was saving to buy a hearing aid, she took to the web forum to vent her frustrations. Reading about her difficult situation, another redditor stepped in and purchased her the hearing aid, quickly improving her quality of life and motivating her to go back to school. These two people would almost surely have never met or interacted without the connections that the social web provides.

In Odessa, Florida, a police officer was able to use Facebook to reach out to a suicidal man who had barricaded himself in his home and had refused all other communications with police. Building a rapport by talking about some of the man’s ‘likes’ (including fishing), the officer was able to calm the man, who later walked out of the home and was put under medical supervision. Again, a connection that otherwise would not have occurred was made possible by social media, and diffused what could have been a deadly situation.

4. Sharing Hope and Courage

When a Minnesota man created gifs of his brother’s recovery from a coma, he was not only helping his brother but was bringing hope to others in a similar situation. When a teen cancer sufferer began keeping a video blog of how she uses make-up to draw attention to her facial features instead of her chemotherapy-induced baldness, she served as an inspiration to so many people that cosmetics giant Cover Girl took notice. Thirteen-year-old Talia Joy Castellano became the honorary face of Cover Girl, and her courage has attracted nearly 40 million viewers to her YouTube channel.

5. Reuniting Loved Ones

On the same vein of opening up new communication channels, social media has become a tool for finding and reuniting lost loved ones.

Las Vegas realtor Jim Snyder helped a 74-year-old homeless man find and talk to his daughter by using both Facebook and Skype. After seeing her in a YouTube video, Anais Bordier was able to finally contact her long lost identical twin.

The uniting power of social was again put on display at the Boston Marathon. When phone reception was weak, Google stepped in and quickly launched “People Finder,” a resource website to help loved ones research the status of family and friends.

And it’s not only about people. There are countless stories of families finding lost pets through social channels. After Hurricane Sandy, Facebook pages helped reunite residents of New Jersey with lost family photos and other household items. Social media is a uniting force like nothing we’ve ever seen.

6. Showing that Positivity is Worth Sharing

We can all agree (and the data tells us) that social media is a great tool for sharing cat videos and jokes. But the online community has proven time and again that they appreciate positivity. “When it bleeds it leads,” an old saying among journalists, doesn’t necessarily ring true on social networks where the inspirational, tear-jerking and smile-inducing clips often fare far better.

From inspirational campaigns, to impressive personal recoveries and growth, social networks are a hub for positive stories that help you get through the difficult days a little easier.

Have any other examples of social media being used as a force for good? Please share them… and not only with us, but with anyone who might enjoy and benefit from them.