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The Social Media Paradox: Using the Web for Sandy Relief After the Buzz Dies Down

Our collective attention span is shorter. Yet, the real-world impact of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy reverberate for years.

People consume more media for shorter amounts of time today. The culprit in large part is social media. As the founder of Attention USA, a New York City-based social media marketing and communications agency, I’ve seen first-hand how cultural consciousness shifts more quickly than ever before, because the plumbing of social media allows everyone to share and socialize with little friction. In short, our collective attention span is shorter. Yet, the real-world impact of causes and disasters such as Hurricane Sandy reverberate for years.

Naturally, conversation about Sandy spiked right after the storm, and then jumped from one week after to one month later until the communications vacuum was refilled by the next crisis. Sadly, this ebb in conversation correlates tightly to an ebb in donations and volunteerism. Furthermore, as life has returned to "business as usual," for many of the people who spent the weeks after the hurricane glued to social media for disaster updates the drive to answer the question, "How can I help?" has faded.

Yet the need for help among the communities devastated by Sandy is no less urgent than it was—and it is not going away any time soon.

Paradoxically, social behavior also represents the best way for the community to stay engaged. New York Cares, the largest volunteer organization in New York City, understands this. They run programs for 1,300 nonprofits, public schools, and city agencies (their "Community Partners") to help people in need throughout the five boroughs, and do so at no cost to the recipient organizations. Every year, they give more than 400,000 New Yorkers a shot at a better future by helping high-risk students get into college, providing job training to unemployed adults, and teaching kids the joy of reading.

They've also emerged as the way for people to help New York and New Yorkers recover from Sandy. To date, the organization has made contact with tens of thousands of residents in the impacted communities—including the Rockaways, Staten Island, and Southern Brooklyn—through more than 13,500 volunteers they have deployed on more than 800 relief and recovery projects.

Helping hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods thrive again will be about much more than cleanup efforts. In the months to come, much of New York Cares' focus will be on providing valuable social services—from tutoring programs to adult education programs—in the most heavily impacted areas. To that end, we are partnering with them on the implementation of StepUp4Good, a New York Cares-focused board on Pinterest.

Our goal through StepUP4Good is to promote New York Cares' efforts so that users can share the programs that resonate with them personally, can find out how to volunteer on hands-on Sandy-related projects—either on their own, with a group, or with their company—or consider making a donation or hosting/attending a fundraiser to help support New York Cares' Sandy-relief efforts. Users can also check out visuals and blog postings about the great work volunteers and fundraisers have done thus far and learn about New York Cares' ongoing work and how to get involved.

With your support, they will tutor students who missed weeks of school because of flooded classrooms, visit seniors who are even more isolated in Sandy’s aftermath, and help dislocated adults get back on their feet. They are also assisting the local nonprofits and churches—which were themselves highly compromised by the storm—return to operation.

New York Cares anticipates that their hurricane response programming will likely extend throughout the next 18 months. And even as they work to reverse Sandy's damage, they continue to run ongoing programs at full pace, providing a lifeline to more than 400,000 at-risk New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs.

By sharing and engaging with StepUP4Good you’ll be a part of reversing the trend toward social media-induced short-term memory and, more importantly, you'll expand the opportunity for engagement and good works. In the aftermath of Sandy, New Yorkers certainly need both.

Click here to add followingand sharingStepUp4Good to your GOOD "to-do" list.

We’re challenging the GOOD community to commit our time to service. Go here to pledge 1 percent of your time—that’s 20 hours—to being part of the solution this year.

House in ruins at Rockaway Beach, New York photo via SVLuma / Shutterstock

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