secondlife apple haiti header Google, iTunes Pitch in Haiti Relief

By Tara Lane, Staff Writer

It has only been a week since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the response for aid has been nothing less than astonishing. Within days, the Red Cross received more than $3 million in donations through its text messaging service; that amount has since risen to more than $20 million. Whether its an individual or a multi-million dollar corporation, everyone is looking for ways to send help for Haiti relief – and it seems that they’re turning to digital media as their primary source for information.

Following other natural disasters such as the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, or the California wildfires, response through digital media outlets was effective, but never topped the response that Haiti has seen. It’s clear that disaster relief efforts have evolved in the digital age, with the help of Twitter and Facebook, as well as new technologies that allow us to disseminate vital information at little to no cost, with positive results. A simple search on Google Trends reveals that the digital buzz for Haiti relief has a search volume index of nearly 300, compared to a search volume index of only 65 for Katrina relief in 2005.

The rise in digital media technologies has also lent a hand to how people are able to help – texting being one of many examples. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Curtis Brainard noted last week that new media has been crucial in the aftermath of the earthquake, not only to send relief, but for family members to connect with loved ones, and for locals to share eyewitness accounts. Digital media has had a profound influence on charitable giving by both large companies and individuals from around the world. Many major brands have already pledged millions, and are now urging their customers to do the same, through their individual Web sites or foundations.

Not only has technology made it easier to donate, it makes charitable giving more accessible to a larger population.
As consumers become hyper-connected to others through digital media, attitudes toward giving may be affected in a positive way.  Because we can more easily see images and videos of firsthand accounts, or read stories and pleas from survivors, we feel more connected to the situation, and are more apt to give as much as we can.

How Brands are Helping

Apple – Apple is enabling users to donate directly through the iTunes store. A simple image on the store’s landing page directs users to another page, where they can donate with just one click. A Gift card funds may be used, or the transaction can be charged to a credit card. Customers can donate in amounts from $5 to $200. All funds will be given directly to the Red Cross.

Wyclef Jean – Through his already established organization Yele Haiti, the musician began accepting donations for earthquake relief shortly after the disaster happened. Yele has been a trending topic on Twitter, with celebrities joining in on the cause every day. Jean, along with many other celebrities, are organizing a major telethon event set to take place on Jan. 22nd. The telethon will be broadcast on every major network, with proceeds going to The Red Cross, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, UNICEF and Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation.

Partnering with Wyclef Jean, Starbucks has begun accepting donations at the register that will go toward the Red Cross disaster relief fund. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres are helping to spread the word for Starbucks on Twitter.

Google – Clicking on a link directly from the main Google search page takes users to a one-stop shop for all things Haiti relief. Google’s crisis response team provided links to major organizations like UNICEF and CARE where users can donate money through Google Checkout, and also have a section with current headlines relating to the disaster. To help those who can’t be in Haiti understand the full impact of the situation, Google has provided updated imagery of Haiti through its GeoEye technology. Most importantly, Google has also created a specialized “Person Finder” for Haiti to help connect families and loved ones. Google will also be offering free Google Voice calls to Haiti for the next two weeks.

Digital media has enabled disaster relief efforts to have a much greater impact, not just in the United States, but around the world. While we use this technology to connect with friends or help grow a business, it can be easy to forget the other great purposes it can serve. Now that we know what can be done, we can be more prepared for the future. During this time, more people will adopt these digital tools, — Twitter, Google Voice and Skype — and even newer ones will be created – making our future digital impact on historical world events that much greater.

Image by Paul Barker from Stock.Xchng