Melissa Waggener Zorkin: Disaster Relief Is The Tip Of The Iceberg For Social Media

Melissa Waggener Zorkin: Disaster Relief Is The Tip Of The Iceberg For Social Media

In advance of the PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 in NYC, Melissa Waggener Zorkin discusses how Twitter and the like are changing the way we support each other as a society.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
  • 7 april 2013

Waggener Edstrom has provided PSFK with generous support throughout 2012 and beyond and is the Official Agency Partner of the PSFK Conference Series. In advance of the PSFK CONFERENCE 2013, they shared their thoughts on the use of social media to promote the greater good. 

The PSFK audience is a digitally savvy bunch. So it will come as no surprise to this group to learn that social media has become a critical tool for engaging with and supporting social causes.

Historically, we’ve seen the largest turnout through social media and online giving in response to disasters, such as relief following the earthquake in Haiti, the Japanese tsunami or Superstorm Sandy on the east coast of the United States.

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are well-engineered for rapid response and establishing a community to share information and raise money. After all, people want to belong to something, and social media creates the broad ability to get involved. This is all good and helps address a short-term crisis.


However, there’s a sea change occurring. Social media can do so much more than just quickly raise funds to help with disasters. It broadens the universe for those wanting to get involved — people are better able to see where all they can contribute as well as all the things that need attention.

If an organization can find the right people in the digital community with whom to engage, it can help raise awareness and ignite action for those causes that might not be as mainstream or an immediate emergency but are some of the world’s toughest challenges. Previously, social media was focused entirely on engagement. Now organizations need to understand how to also use storytelling across social media. If they can use storytelling in the right way, they can find a stronger, more engaged audience.

So how do you find the right people among the millions in the twittersphere? And how do you pivot them from engagement to action — massive action scaled across large numbers of people — to create real impact?


We conducted research with the Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication to help organizations identify the most important influencers, the ones that really create impact for an organization. For organizations to be successful, specificity and targeting are key. You need to know not only to whom you should speak, but also what motivates them to engage personally and spread the word to their own networks.

Disasters and emergencies will always compel people to give; social media makes that easier to do. But as more stories are told about the tougher causes, such as hygiene, childhood marriage, rape, diarrhea and refugees, to people who are ready, willing and waiting to engage, there will be more support. It is all about stories and people seeing firsthand the change and impact they can have.

Article contributed by Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO, President & Founder of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.

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