Why the American Red Cross Listens Online

11 Comments 19 April 2010

Danielle Brigida (NWF) and Wendy Harman (ARC)

I just returned from the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Atlanta, and loved the sessions. Over the next few days, I’ll publish my notes from several of the valuable workshops. This blog post is taken from my notes at the We Are Media Listening workshop, presented by Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross (ARC). Today’s post is the first of two blog posts from this workshop. Part One reviews how and why the ARC listens online, and Part Two describes how to build a listening dashboard from free online tools.

I was struck by how the American Red Cross thinks about listening as a tool for building community, internal professional development, and organizational development.

This is how the American Red Cross thinks about online listening:

Listening is about relevancy. The ARC is mentioned about 700 times a day across many social media platforms, and ALL of their social media content is informed by listening to the things people care about.

Listening can spur organizational change. The ARC has made several adjustments based on what people are saying about the organization. Example: during Haiti, everyone knew about the text code to donate, but also the people trapped in Haiti were using that code to tell the outside world about the situation. Lesson learned: ARC needs to figure out a way to separate out different conversations during crisis.

Listening is about reputation management. The ARC actively seeks to connect with people who are upset or happy about our work, and offer help and resources, and this is a very proactive way to manage reputation.

Listening gives us great data to help us do our work better. There is also a big market research element to listening: because there is so much social data to analyze, the ARC can become much more informed about the data from listening.

Listening is about professional development. Wendy also believes that every person in the internal organization should be familiar with what is going on in his/her field; what it is that they do daily. Knowing what is going on makes employees better at their jobs.

Social media is open to everyone: volunteers, chapters, and employees. Listening builds community. The ARC created a flow chart of its response strategy. It also created a social media handbook for the chapters. For employees and chapters, the ARC encourages anyone to respond and engage but the ground rules boil down to #1: disclose your relationship to the ARC and #2: talk only about what you know. Through listening, local chapters and the larger ARC build communities of trust and communities of care.

How the ARC monitors online mentions and keywords: They use Radian6

ARC uses Radian6, a paid listening service. At the click of a button, Radian6 creates  big-picture graphs depending on what kinds of information you want. Easy to share most important conversations. Example: Radian6 can produce a graph of the intersection between the keywords American Red Cross, Haiti, Donate, Flood, and Blood. One can see from this graph how to best connect with people and what most care about from their conversations. It’s also easy to view where people are talking about “American Red Cross” online: mainstream news, twitter, blogs, etc.

Radian6 also makes it easy to find relevant keywords to keep an eye on them. The application will create a cloud graph of the words most closely associated with the organization over the last 90 days (Ed note: interesting feature!). Cool feature: users can run a “river of news” to see why there is a spike in mentions. The river of news will show all the mentions at any points, which can help organizations identify trends, missed conversations, and other items.

Radian 6 demonstration

In part 2: Danielle Brigida explains how to build a killer listening dashboard out of free listening tools

  • Hey and thanks for the great event write-up! I thought your point about spurring organizational change was particularly insightful, especially for the Red Cross since they're in the center of so many major events and have a pretty unique challenge compared to most other organizations. Cheers for the Radian6 kudos, as well!

    Community Manager | @misskatiemo


  • Hi Katie,
    Thanks for stopping by. I was really struck by the same point as well, and also by the organizational support for creating community through listening. Both of these ideas really speak to the commitment by the ARC to *really* listening and using social media as a community and organizational-building tool.


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  • Hi Debra,

    This is an awesome write up! I work with Wendy at the Red Cross headquarters. You definitely captured everything about what we try to do every day with social media at the ARC. Thanks!

    PS. Just followed you on twitter. 🙂


  • bethkanter

    Love this post!


  • Thanks, Gloria. So nice to hear that I captured the essence of your social media approach correctly. This approach is so inspiring to me. Look forward to connecting on twitter as well.


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  • Debra – Quick question for you: You wrote “The ARC actively seeks to connect with people who are upset or *happy* about our work” How do they filter out these conversations from the ones that are neither upset or happy. Are they looking for some percentage of extremes on each end?


  • Hi John, good question. The answer is that I'm not entirely sure. I know that Radian6 can filter by sentiment. She didn't speak about a percentage of extremes at either end in the presentation. I sent a note to Wendy Harman asking if she could address your comment here as well – and I'll let her address the comment if she can.


  • John – We read all of our mentions so there's no filtering. We hop in and try to respond appropriately and helpfully everywhere we can, which many times includes talking to the people who are neither upset or happy.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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