Hong Kong– As Japan battles a potential nuclear catastrophe following last week’s earthquake and tsunami, businesses are racing to offer a helping hand to assist victims. Companies, especially those specializing in tech and interactive media, are using their technology prowess to facilitate disaster relief efforts.
However, where do companies draw the line in raising awareness of their cause without being misinterpreted as being self-promotional and insensitive to the crisis?
Jeremy Woolf, senior vice president, global social media practice lead at PR firm Text 100, offered this advice: “You do any sort of CSR [corporate social responsibility] because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t do it because it’s a way of generating publicity.”
He pointed to Apple iTunes as an example of best practice in action. The company used its online store to facilitate donations.
Companies should be motivated by how they can help. They should ask questions such as how many donations have they received and how they can use their networks for a cause instead of asking how they could be seen helping others, Woolf advised.
He added that people behave differently when using social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook than corporate sites. On social networks, it is easy for opinions to flare up, to be shared, and retweeted.
So, if you’re using social channels, his advice is to go in with your eyes open.
Here is an overview of some initiatives underway since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan:
Google: It launched the Person Finder tool to help locate missing people in Japanese, Chinese, and English within an hour of the earthquake. Through crowdsourcing, more than 280,000 records have been collected to date and the number is still climbing. The search firm also developed a crisis response information page that provides emergency numbers to consult missing persons, disaster message boards, shelter information, maps, and timely updates. Website visitors can also donate to the Japanese Red Cross, Unicef, and Save the Children organization from that page.
Groupon: The group-buying platform has launched a campaign in 23 countries around the world for the Red Cross disaster relief fund. So far, it has raised more than 103 million yen ($1.3 million) with the bulk of donations coming from Germany, England, and France. In Britain, for instance, Groupon matched every pound donated up to the total value of 70,000 pounds.
Apple: iTunes has set up a donation page to allow Mac users in the U.S. to send monetary aid to the American Red Cross via their accounts to help Japan’s earthquake and tsunami victims. Meanwhile, Apple staff in Japan are reportedly helping stranded visitors charge their phones to stay in contact with loved ones and taught people how to contact family or stay informed via Wi-Fi way past opening hours, according to Digg founder, Kevin Rose.
Twitter: The company’s Hope140 blog, “From the EpiCenter,” features helpful accounts to follow in English and Japanese. They include @Federation, the International Federation of Red Cross, @EQTW, which updates on earthquake and tsunami warnings, and @CNNLive. Additionally, the microblogging site is providing pro-bono crisis tweets to the @HawaiiRedCross account.
Skype: The communications platform said it will provide free Wi-Fi at hotspots throughout Japan until March 19. It is also issuing 80 yen worth of credit vouchers to Japanese customers via e-mail that will allow them to call a landline phone in the country as well as overseas to places such as China and the U.S. or send text messages directly from its application.
Facebook: The Global Disaster Relief page highlights efforts responding to the disaster. One post, for instance, noted that social game developer Zynga’s players raised more than $1 million for Save the Children in Japan. In addition, the Causes community has an app that allows Facebook users to donate to nonprofits in Japan; it has raised more than $150,000 to date.
Tudou: One of China’s largest online video platforms has aggregated video news and footage about Japan’s earthquake since the day it occurred. Serving as a news platform initially, Tudou has been receiving user-generated video posts from its users on earthquake themes ranging from search for survivors, prayers from different cities, and on-the-scene clips from users in Japan shot in their offices, homes, and supermarkets. Anita Huang, VP of marketing and business development at Tudou, said the disaster resonated with its team because it was similar to what the country experienced during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Tudou hopes to contribute by serving as an online video platform that bridges conventional broadcast and citizen journalism.
Alibaba: China’s largest e-commerce company has enabled AliExpress, its international platform, to accept cash donations on behalf of donors or allow people to buy disaster relief supplies at cost that will be shipped free of charge to Japan.
Microsoft: The company said it will donate software and services, valued at $1.75 million, and $250,000 in cash, according to an Information Week report. Over the weekend, some people lashed out at Microsoft when it initially offered to donate $1 each time someone retweeted a Microsoft message on Twitter about the fundraising initiative; that effort included a $100,000 limit. Microsoft issued an apology on Twitter and said it would donate $100,000, putting an end to the retweet campaign.
A View From Japan
To get a glimpse of the situation in Japan, I interviewed Glenn Bartlett, senior creative director at I&S BBDO based in Tokyo. Below are excerpts of our e-mail interview.
Adaline Lau: How are companies rallying to help people in Japan?
Glenn Bartlett: I think everyone is doing as much as they can. Google is a shining example and the website TimeOutJapan was and are amazing in its delivery of factual and reliable information on Twitter. As for on the ground help, many companies are limited in what physical things they can do…another good example is Softbank making its Wi-Fi free, helping to keep communication open and accessible to all.
AL: What is the state of the mobile network in Japan?
GB: The mobile network has been fine since being down on the Friday of the quake. But to be honest, after the first outage of the mobile network most of us have relied on social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Mixi…I have discovered the double-edge sword that is social media. Of course, it’s great to tell friends you are OK and give updates to loved ones and share well wishes. But, I found especially with Twitter, it created a lot of unnecessary panic and misleading information, not to mention pranks and fear mongering. You had to be sensible and choose your information carefully. Mind you, there seemed to set in a sense of social responsibility amongst the Twitter community of weeding out and debunking false or misleading information, but this was always clouded with the one thing true journalism is meant to be – without opinion…all that being said, the hyper-fast information delivery was incredible and I would not ask to change it.
AL: What Internet sites did you find useful for the current situation?
GB: Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Wikipedia (for sorting information and understanding the why and how of it all) and online games to keep me from going batty! It’s been a surreal experience and continues to be one. It’s amazing how people react; many seem to have little reaction and just went about stocking up and gathering with friends and families, but under the surface…another aftershock…it’s exhausting not knowing when the next quake will hit or when the next power plant explosion will happen. I want it to end and my heart goes out to those who have truly lost. The effect on my life has been nothing compared to those in the area hit hard by the tsunami and continues to beleaguer by cold weather and the nuclear threat.
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