So in November 2006 they hired Wendy Harman as the organization’s first social media manager. “I was hired in part because the leaders knew that people were saying really bad things about the Red Cross’s response to Katrina,” Harman recalls, “and they wanted someone to make it stop.”
The American Red Cross is made up of over seven hundred local chapters and regions, and Harman was concerned that people would have inconsistent experiences when interacting with the Red Cross online. “We had a lot of people naming themselves ‘Clara Barton,’ the founder of the Red Cross, or some other sort of random clever names.” So she wrote a handbook that laid out guidelines, procedures, and best practices on how Red Cross chapters could and should use social media, and she put it online for anyone to see.2
Target ran a Facebook-based fundraising contest for select organizations, among them the American Red Cross. The result: the Red Cross raised $793 thousand from that campaign alone. Says Harman, “If we hadn’t been in this space, we wouldn’t have been invited to be a part of it. We were able to leverage our community and tell them to vote for us.”
What’s fascinating about this story is that the American Red Cross started engaging in social media because it sought to control it, but realized over time that it was better to be open and engage with those who were already engaging them. But here’s a critical point: the Red Cross didn’t simply throw open the doors overnight. It was only when Harman was able to put in place the proper procedures, policies, and guidelines that defined how everyone should and shouldn’t behave, that the Red Cross felt comfortable letting go of the impulse to control.