Monday, August 8, 2011

Using Social Media for Action

If your father went missing, would you have any idea what to do in order to keep the story in the media?

I don't think I would. Or, I didn't anyway.

Recently, the father of a close friend went missing on a fishing expedition in Mexico. You may have heard about this. Twenty seven Americans were on the boat, which capsized, and all but eight people made it to shore or were picked up. One died. Seven are still missing, including our friend's father.

The friend and her husband, who is one of Mr. Sierra's closest friends, were advised by the media to use social media as a way to garner attention and notice, and to remain in the public eye. I'm not sure if our friends were given advice on what this might include.

On the day after the news broke, which I regard as the first day of action after the accident, my friend asked me how to start a blog, and I told her. They started one. Then, they started a Twitter account. After this first day, my friend posted on Facebook: "thanks to all of your blogging and Twitter efforts, local politicians have heard us and are taking action!"

This wasn't true.

The social media ball had begun rolling, but it was quite small. There was zero chance that a few blog posts and tweets had gotten politico attention after one day.

But in the following days, momentum gathered. Mainly, this was through Facebook. Our friends set up a Facebook page in addition to the blog and Twitter account, and then set up a petition to sign at or The "likes" on the Facebook page grew each day from the double digits to the thousands. The daily re-posts from people on their Facebook pages was great to see. People were commenting, sharing, and liking-- and it really paid off.

Local congresspeople actually did take notice, partly because our friends repeatedly gave us information on how to write and call the congresspeople. The congresspeople wrote letters, and the effort started reaching awesome milestones: the Mexican government, which initially said it wouldn't extend the search past the standard 48 hours, extended it to 92 hours, and then after that it extended it again. The Navy and the Coast Guard got involved. Newspapers picked up the story and carried it to other newspapers across the country. My friends' family held a press conference. News reports did stories on it. In our local papers, including the biggest (San Francisco Chronicle), our friends were repeatedly pictured and best yet--the blog they had set up was mentioned repeatedly.

The end result of all this is that many, many people have heard about this and want to help. My friends have been offered support and help in incredible ways. All because of the powerful speed and sharing capabilities of social media. My friends have called their effort Find Our Fathers.

To review, let's go over what you should do in a case like this.

What to Do
  • Start a blog. Update it every day.
  • Blast it your news all over Facebook as much as possible--and repeatedly.
  • Start a Facebook page that repeats what the blog says.
  • Start a dedicated Twitter account and tweet all your blog posts and related news stories.
  • Set up petitions at sites like
  • Start a web site that collects contact info from all the other sources.
There's much more, of course--tactics like giving people a form letter to copy and paste to send to their local and state officials, and giving out email addresses and phone numbers of those we need to contact. I also think it's wise to tell people exactly what you need--tell them what to write, who to write it to, what the goal is, what to tweet, etc.

Unfortunately, this story does not have a good ending.

My friend's father has not been found, nor have the other six missing men, and the US Department of Defense has declined to send a dive team in on the taxpayer's dime to see if the missing men went down with the boat. My friends now are raising money to fund a dive. They think their fathers went down with the boat--but there have been no bodies and without a dive, we'll never know.

I would end this post here, but there are a few very important things to say at this juncture. And that brings me to:

What not to do
As days went on, the husband became exhausted and frustrated, grieving and hoping and preparing for the worst case scenario--two weeks is a long time to be lost at sea or on an uninhabited island. He posted lists of those who had signed the petition, thus shaming and guilting those who hadn't and mentioned rather testily that if people wanted to help, then they should get off their butts and read the posts. He posted lists of names who had contributed via Paypal, even before the family had indicated what the donation was for. He posted names of those who had offered prayers to the family and left several people off. It was all rather unseemly. (Ultimately, he can be forgiven. His grief and anger has been unbearable-- in the days following the accident, the wife's grandmother died [mother to the missing father] and then the husband's mother died. It's been a really, really, really shitty summer for our friends.)

Nevertheless, you don't want to do anything that would drive people away from supporting. So, let's review what not to do when seeking support for action:
  • Do not shame or guilt people into doing something.
  • Do not publicly call out those who have given without their permission.
  • Do not assume that everyone else is living your daily reality -- this is a sensitive point on which the bereaved and distraught can understandably find difficulty, but very important nonetheless. As awful as it sounds, people need to be reminded of your reality.
  • Do not fail to make it clear what everyone should strive for -- what or whom you are petitioning and what donations will support.

If you're interested in helping or learning more, here's the info:
Find Our Fathers blog
FoF on Twitter
FoF Facebook page

If you have any questions, please e-mail me.

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