For those who have been cynical about the value and uses of social media, recent events that have hit the news must surely be beginning to convert even the most anti-social media types.

First Egypt, then Japan, and recently Libya, have all seen a rise in social media input to the news. As blogger for Clickthrough, part of my job is to monitor the social media feeds for news from the online marketing world. However, it is impossible to miss non-SEO and internet marketing trends as they develop. From March 11th onwards, my world has revolved around news coming out of Japan.

Japan has been on my must visit list for years, but beyond that, my interest was fairly minimal. Without having visited it, the culture is anathema to me, the language shows only as squares on the screen, and I was unaware just how many islands there were. No more.

To see the earthquake, the tsunami and the devastating consequences unfold before us on our monitors means that when anyone asks, “Where were you when….?”, my answer will be, “At my desk. Glued to two monitors, running multiple sites in untold browsers, windows and tabs – TV news from NHK, BBC, CNN, social media from Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, Reuters Japan blog, radiation info and maps, blogs, expert commentaries etc etc.”

This fascination was not a gory interest. I am a mum and a daughter. It was human horror at the feelings that the tsunami generated more than anything. I followed anyone who was tweeting directly from Japan in English. (And found hundreds of incredible blogs and people who I would never have encountered otherwise). And amongst all those tweets was a request from @ourmaninabiko to contribute 250 words to produce a book to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross. That book is Quakebook.

I did not feel qualified to write, although I write every single day. Instead, I offered my services – to edit primarily. I read the piece I was sent, edited it (minimally as it was so full of emotion it seemed wrong to remove even a word of that flow), and volunteered to do jobs that I could see needed doing. I built the blog that @ourmaninabiko had started with a single post. I set up a Volunteer form and monitored those offering to help. I looked into online collaboration tools, and set to to build a Yammer community for the promotion work, bringing together translators, video experts, photographers, and keen, enthusiastic people equally as determined to do our little piece for this country and its people.

But I was only one of many. A global team of volunteers, creating graphics; editing untold harrowing stories; setting up meetings with some of the biggest names in the world – Amazon, Sony, Apple; planning the PR campaign; debating the right way forward for copyright, format, release dates; contacting media across the planet; co-ordinating a growing team. I think some 200 people are directly involved now. The core team are exhausted but unrelenting in their quest to see this project delivered to its full potential.

Sleep, for many, went out the window some time ago. But, with people across the world involved, we operate 24 hours a day – ‘follow the sun’ has taken on a new meaning. The problem is not finding time to sleep as much as it is about forcing yourself away from this incredible activity for long enough to rest or meet your own daily life needs.

Whilst Quakebook has grown, so has the ever-disturbing news from Fukushima Daiichi plant and from the area of Tohoku where some communities, already suffering from an exodus away from rural industry to the bright lights of the cities, may never, ever be re-built. Ways of life have been forever washed away.

The death toll still stands, realistically, at around 26,000 or more. In a coastal area that is approximately equivalent to London to Newcastle. Can we in the UK then begin to imagine the devastation when it is put in our own geographic terms? In human terms, the number is almost impossible to comprehend.

Quakebook is more than just a book of words and images. It is a triumph of online co-ordination and collaboration by a group of strangers who may never ever meet, nor know what others look like. It is clear proof that social media has come of age. It is citizen journalism in its new clothes. It is a method of working whereby teams are put together on the fly and disband when the job is done. It is crowd sourcing that any business could benefit from. And it will, undoubtedly, raise money for those on the ground who can best do the good we all wish we were able to do.

It is also, I think, the most astounding project I have ever been involved with in my life. It is a pleasure to donate the skills that each of us have into such an astoundingly professional and dedicated team, despite it coming into being in a haphazard and unique way.

Thank you to Clickthrough Marketing for permitting me to explore this opportunity, post blog posts late, write this post, and be part of the quite extrordinary Quakebook experience.

The book will be published in just a few days, as an ebook first, and then as a print edition. Please buy it. The Red Cross in Japan have YEARS of work to do there for the survivors. Support them through Quakebook. And if you have any doubts about the power of social media, throw caution to the wind and just try to see what communicating with others around you can achieve.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology