When writing this post, I wanted to talk about “online marketing” in a way that didn’t make it sound like taking advantage of people’s misery for corporate gain, which this isn’t. Really it isn’t. See – not an easy task. That said, in our world of organic search and online marketing, there are many ways that our work can be used to benefit those in need during times of crisis, and also many ways that good, sound mechanics in online marketing can help to ensure that people will be able to connect with their loved ones, insurance companies, and agencies that may either provide direct assistance, or act as an aggregation point for the most important part of any disaster – the recovery part.

Now at Bluetrain we do have some vested interest in leveraging the popularity of disasters for the enhanced success of our clients. But this isn’t as evil as it sounds when you realize that one of our clients is UNICEF Canada. Naturally, with UNICEF, there’s a lot of focus on international disasters, turbulent political situations (Egypt, Syria for example), and sweeping global issues like vaccination in developing countries, world hunger, and child poverty.


Anti-Morsi Demonstrators in Cairo (source: Wikipedia.org)

A little closer to home, though, are things like the recent floods in Southern Alberta  and now Toronto. I know people who were directly affected by the Albertadisaster. There’s something different about having a local-personal connection to these kinds of things as it is no longer just news announcements, but much more about “I wonder if this cousin or that friend is ok.” So, looking at both kinds of disasters, let’s call the first category Global, and the second Local, what role does online marketing have to play in all this?

Online Marketing as a Rallying Point-Information Source

When disaster strikes, globally or locally, power systems and on-the-ground infrastructure tends to be interrupted at best. At worst, they’re decimated. That basically leaves wireless communications as the only way that people can communicate with each other. Having said that, wireless communications infrastructure is built in such a way, that if everyone uses it, all at once, it actually stops working. If you’ve ever been at a big event, let’s say the Grey Cup, or a big concert, you’ll notice that if you’re trying to call someone right after the event is over you will often have trouble connecting, with a “fast busy” occurring after you dial and send to make a call. This is because phone-based communications relies on a dedicated number of circuits, actual point-to-point connections between your phone, the nearest cell tower, other cell towers, the communications switch, and then out to the person you’re trying to call. These systems are intentionally over-subscribed. It’s not an evil thing, the reality of it is, everything actually works 99% of the time. But, if you’re in the middle of a disaster, and everyone with a cell phone is trying to dial out, good luck to you. Jeepers, did I really just write all that? Lol. Clearly I’m still a bit of a nerd. There’s a pronounced difference between making calls, and using a smartphone. Internet Protocol (IP) is totally different, and isn’t a series of dedicated circuits. So that means that the stuff you send from your smart phone, whether it’s email, or a Facebook post, might be a bunch slower if every other person is trying to send out, but it will get through. This is where online marketing starts to be in play, whether it’s intentional or not, people are on the ground, and using social media and the web to communicate, to other people about what-the-what is going on. Let’s imagine you’re the Canadian Red Cross, and you are very engaged with social media, including having a community manager who is responding to Facebook posts of people in need, as the flooding begins to take hold in Calgary. The soundness of your online marketing strategy & tactics is now being tested, and it couldn’t be more real, as someone on their smart phone in High River might be looking for the nearest high ground where they can access Canadian Red Cross relief workers/supplies. So, in this context, it’s a lot about Social Media, which is, of course, a huge part of online marketing these days. That said, simple things related to our everyday SEO work, like having properly formatted and tagged Name-Address-Phone number (NAP) data on your webpages, can actually make a huge difference.



ATB Volunteers help out in Southern Alberta (source: ATB Facebook page)

Online Marketing as a Community Building Exercise

People in corporations and big organizations are always trying to establish and enhance a sense of community, and there’s no question that community involvement can make a meaningful contribution to a company’s bottom line. For me, the best part of that are the companies who actually care, and who get involved in community building because they want the world to be a better place, are the ones who profit most from this extension of their brand. One of our clients, ATB Financial, is doing some really great work in this realm(Yes, I know there are people who aren’t our clients, doing great stuff down in Southern Alberta too)And from what I have seen from the folks I’ve dealt with at ATB, is that what they’re doing comes from the best possible place – the place that just drops everything and helps when people are in need. It isn’t just individual ATB volunteers acting alone, the company itself pro-actively offered programs related to short-term loans, credit card limit increases, and payment relief. I realize they’re still making money here, but that’s not why they’re doing it. Like us, they actually give a crap. If you’re skeptical, read through their Facebook page. Those are real ATB people, rallying and getting their hands dirty and supporting each other and the community. To be honest, I’m not an ATB client, but after this experience with them, watching a little, and helping a little, and seeing the real difference being made, I’m totally thinking about it.



Calgary’s Saddledome Arena, Torie Peterson, 2013

Online Marketing as a Fundraising Instrument

There are so many different organizations, not just companies like ATB, but organizations like the Canadian Red Cross mentioned above, who are persistently leveraging online marketing in order to drive donations. We do the same with our clients at UNICEF Canada, using words and phrases related to issues, disasters, etc. in order to fuel more donations. Somehow, it’s not skeevy when it’s coming from organizations like that. I think the public knows the difference between organizations who “profit” versus ones who do as much as they can to spend as much as they can on actually helping the people in need. So, when we look at online marketing for fundraising purposes, we apply precisely the same techniques that we do when it’s to sell products, or promote stuff online. Keyword research, campaign optimization, whatever is needed to actually fulfill the end goal. I’m not gonna lie, I think we hold our heads up higher when we’re working with those kinds of organizations as we are certainly proud of the work we do And I know we admire and strive to be like our clients who give and volunteer selflessly, just doing the work that needs to be done, and worrying about figuring out the details later.

Donate to Albert Flood Relief and Other Stuff

So, I’d be remiss without linking to donation pages, and here they are:



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