What The Red Cross Learned From Dell In Setting Up New Social Media Monitoring Center

The debut yesterday of a new social media monitoring and command center at the American Red Cross provided an interesting glimpse into the current and prospective power at the disposal of organizations today to separate and discern meaning from amidst the noise of online chatter–and to be able respond in new and more proactive ways.

The digital operations center captures a steady stream of Twitter, public Facebook pages and other blogging forums, and filters discussion looking for selected disaster-related topics, terms, and geographic references using a specialized search and analytics software tool designed to track social media data.

The center is built into an alcove in the Red Cross’s Washington Disaster Operations Center, with six large screen monitors that display visualizations of various streams of social data, showing for instance, which disaster-related topics are trending with the greatest volume, or hich states are showing the greatest activity, or who are among the most influential bloggers are surrounding those topics.

Red Cross personnel got to put the new system through a real-life test unexpectedly this weekend, however, ahead of its debut, when they discovered bloggers talking about a high school that had been destroyed by tornadoes that swept through Henryville, Ind., over the weekend.

I got to speak with Gloria Huang, a Red Cross senior social engagement specialist while covering the event. She told me that the new monitoring tools helped the Red Cross decide to dispatch assistance personnel several hours ahead of general media reports and significantly earlier than would have traditionally been the case without the system.

That’s exactly what the Red Cross has in mind with the new center: to be able to respond more quickly. But it also gives them a unique platform to reach out and care for people on line. When people expressed their mortal fears that tornadoes were literally at their doorsteps, Red Cross staffers seeing their Tweets, were able to respond instantly online with words of reassurance and tips of what to do in the moment.

The intelligence from comments on the ground and in the region are also expected to help the Red Cross make deployment decisions better, faster, and coordinate help in ways that make total sense in the Facebook and Twitter world we live in today, but until recently, have been hard to harness.

The Red Cross got a helping hand from Dell, which has been pioneering the use of social media engagement for nearly five years. Cory Edwards, who heads up Dells social media and corporate reputation efforts, told me that Dell now employs 84 staffers to monitor online forums, looking for customers experiencing frustrations, and now resolves about 98% of the situations it encounters, and in 34% of situations, “turns ranters into ravers.” True, Dell is a global giant, but its use of Chinese staffers for instance to monitor forums in China to identify reputation and customer satisfaction issues provides a glimpse of what’s ahead for organizations just starting out in monitoring social media data.

Dell’s lessons are instructive for many organizations wanting to take better care of its customers. But those lessons will be particularly valuable to the Red Cross, I believe, where rescuing lives remains such a crucial mission.

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