Facebook Success

Mel Irons, a Facebook novice, was a pivotal influence in helping many people connect through disastrous times.

As we are in the final editing stages of this article we are watching the devastating October fires in NSW on TV. It makes this article appear much more important and relevant that we all keep pursuing the range of communication options for people who are affected by natural disasters.

Mel Irons runs a successful personal training business and is completing her PhD in Psychology. She is most known however as the driving force behind the ‘Tassie Fires – We Can Help’ Facebook page, helping so many people during the bush fires that ravaged Tasmania in January 2013.

The Facebook page reached more than two million people locally and throughout the rest of world, however it is how the page helped the victims that reveals the real power of social media.

Of course, the official communications channels, with help from the mainstream media, were vital in saving lives and property. However it was the Tassie Fires Facebook page that became the gel for local communities during the disaster. More than any other communications channel, it mobilised volunteers locally and elsewhere to help and contribute to victims.

“I was on Facebook and observing a lot of posts, mainly from people wanting to help. They were asking how they could help and what they could do. Then I started to see posts from people asking for help, trying to get assistance on various items. So I posted a comment saying, ‘If anyone needs somewhere to put a dog tonight, I can offer my backyard.’

Afterwards I thought, geez, I’ve got to be able to do more than that! So I put a post on my Facebook page saying, ‘Does anyone know how we can help?’ Someone mentioned there was an evacuation hub in Sorell.”

That was just the beginning…
“Initially I decided to help out by going to the bush fire evacuation hub in Sorell. I posted that on my personal Facebook page and all these people commented saying they would go as well,” tells Mel. “Then I thought, why not create a central Facebook page so everyone could communicate how they are going to help and what help they need, all in one place?

“The first 24 hours was pretty chaotic after setting up the ‘Tassie Fires – We Can Help’ Facebook page.” There was so much happening and so many people coming to the page that Mel worked all hours and many days on the page, sometimes only gaining a few hours sleep.

She helped fulfil requests ranging from delivering fuel to transporting livestock. Livelihoods and businesses were saved, largely because of the Facebook page.

“I have absolutely no background in emergency management. So on one hand I was approaching it from a very naive perspective, but on the other hand, I dived into it thinking anything is possible.”

Even now, when her ‘Go Booty’ personal training business permits AND while completing her PhD, Mel is still assisting various state emergency authorities to utilise social media to be more effective in their response to disasters.

Why it worked
“Many people were already on Facebook looking for information about the fires. They were enquiring about how they could help. So there was this great need.

“I didn’t have to work very hard to attract people to like the page. Looking at the Facebook statistics, most people came to the page because they had viewed it on someone else’s Facebook page.

“I also think that people were just looking for something positive. I was deliberately not posting pictures of fires and my goal was to keep the tone on the page positive. I think people just wanted to see some good things happening rather than just the bad reports you typically see in the media.”

The achievements
“I think one of the best things we achieved with the page was communicating the message without stressing people or becoming political.

“We were updating information for bushfire-affected people through friends and family, who were finding this on the Facebook page and then forwarding it on to them. I was really conscious of not being ‘that person’ who harasses the bushfire-affected people and gets in their face. We were also able to help reduce duplication and unnecessary item donations.”

On social media skills
“I wouldn’t say I was good with social media. I was the last one of my friends to finally and reluctantly agree to start using Facebook. It goes to show that you really don’t need to be a social media guru to make

it work. You don’t even need to understand the technology. All social media means is that I can communicate a message that can be amplified massively. It’s about the skills you have in communicating with and connecting to people, mobilising and motivating people, rather than the technology itself – because that changes all the time.”

What Mel learnt
“I guess I learnt that if you have skills, no matter what they are, you can actually apply them to a field you had no idea about. Just because I didn’t know about emergency management, it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn about it and help out.

“I also realised that you don’t know everything and you are going to make mistakes. You need to be flexible. You need to talk to everyone and you need to be very open about the things you do well and the things you don’t do well.”

Remember, if you are in bushfire affected areas this summer, learn from our recent experiences. Review and update your insurances, download your bush fire survival plan, communicate with your family and seek out websites and Facebook sites for current and local information.

*Disclaimer: This article is generic in nature. All investment decisions should be considered wisely and based on your personal and financial circumstances. Seek proper advice before committing to any course of investment action. This is not deemed as advice.

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