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Tragedy in Haiti Draws on the Power of Mobile

Sky Opila

iPhone in Canada
How are you harnessing the power of text?

Most people have heard that the American Red Cross kicked off a campaign to raise money for support in Haiti via text message. What may be news to some folks is how amazingly well this campaign has worked.

Surely the tragedy in Haiti is nothing to be taken lightly. The destruction and devastation from that quake is unlike anything I've seen in my lifetime. But, I think one lesson a lot of public relations, marketing and even web development professionals can take from this is just how powerful mobile really is.

The Background

Following the news of devastation in Haiti, the American Red Cross jumped into action getting support to the severely crippled country. One of those efforts including raising funds to support more supplies and efforts to assist with one-the-ground relief.

In order to reach as many people as possible and raise as much money as possible, the Red Cross launched a mobile campaign. By simply texting "Haiti" to 90999, you can easily donate $10 to relief efforts. As of the time of this post, MSNBC reported the campaign had raised well over $7 million. Doing the math, at $10 donation increments it would take 700,000 people making a donation to get to this number. In some cases that may not seem like a lot, but considering this amazing response in literally just three days, it's unbelieveable.

The campaign has definitely gone viral as I know my personal Facebook feed has been flooded with friends posting it to the status, my Twitter stream is packed, my Gchat friends list is loaded with 90999 and every radio show I listened to this morning on my drive into the office mentioned it at least once (that's across three different stations). Truly amazing.

Why It's so Successful

Of course the campaign has been heavily touted by Haiti-born song artist Wyclef Jean, but celebrity power is definitely not the why in all of this. And of course this story pulls at the heart strings with early estimates placing death toll in updwards of 100,000, this earthquake was a massive tragedy of immeasurable scale. But, I truly believe the success of this campaign is all in the delivery and choice of channel.

Everyone has a mobile device. My good friend has three, in fact. This phenomenon is no longer shocking or stunning, it's a fact. Our world is quickly being transformed by mobile devices. I read my news, manage bank accounts, stay in touch with family and friends, keep my calendar in order, monitor sports scores, play games and so much more on my mobile device. It's always on my desk at work and always in my hand when I'm on the train. I've truly become attached to the device.

Harnessing that power can have unbelievable results (in fact, while writing this I just read that the new campaign number has risen to closer to $8 million). But, it's all in how it's done - text messaging.

Oftentimes I find that people think harnessing the power of mobile means only optimizing your Web site for mobile. While that is important it's so much more. Just a couple years ago, you used to have to ask people if they text message - not everyone did it. Now, it's assumed, everyone texts. My parents text, my clients text me questions, the list goes on. The point here is that text messaging is so ingrained in what we do with those mobile devices that are attached to our hips.

One of our clients, Empathica, is realizing trends like this and taking advantage of them through a number of innovative new products. Most notably, SMS-Text Survey takes advantage of getting customer feedback at the point of service. Consumers are prompted by in-store signage to respond to a simple survey question, and then correspondingly have a chance to win a prize. Everyone is texting, so why not use the channel to engage customers at the most crucial time of interaction? Empathica's new tool is doing just that.

Everyone can do something with text messaging. It is so easy! My favorite hockey team (no surprise, the Blackhawks) engages me via text with score and game updates, and they make sure to slip in a small advertisment reminding me that tickets are available for an upcoming game or giving me an opportunity to directly go somewhere else related to the team. The text message gets right to me, my phone buzzes, I check it out and in a matter of seconds can be engaging with the brand. What better engagement could there be?

Take a look at your company, no matter how big or how small. Think about what you can do with the power of text. Unfortunately it took a tragedy to show us the real power of this channel, but it's a good time to introspectively look at your own marketing and consider where you can pick up your mobile game.

And in the mean time, join the relief effort and text 90999.