Aid in the Digital Age: Non-governmental organizations’ use of social capital on Twitter in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake


As technology has made the global community more connected, actors such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have taken advantage of social media to raise global awareness and funds. Through a qualitative analysis of the Tweets sent in a three-month period following the 2010 Haitian earthquake this paper takes a dual faceted approach by examining to what extent the fundraising activities of the NGOs examined correlated with organizational social capital on Twitter and what type of messages were sent to followers. Significantly, this research found that social capital on Twitter did not perfectly correlate with the amount of funds raised relative to organizations examined. Additionally, it was determined that organizations used their online sphere on Twitter to exhibit donation seeking, information providing, trust building and follower engaging behaviors thereby attempting to develop, enhance, or capitalize on social capital.


On January 12, 2010, the poverty-ridden nation of Haiti experienced a catastrophic magnitude seven earthquake, which left over 300,000 injured, approximately 220,000 dead, and 1.5 million individuals internally displaced (“Haiti earthquake facts,” n.d.). Conditions in Haiti were not much better, prior to the earthquake, with poor access to water, education, and inadequate shelter for a significant portion of the population of Port-au-Prince (“Haiti earthquake facts,” n.d.). Due to the underdevelopment of the country, the effects of the earthquake were particularly tragic, and the international community responded with a ground-moving amount of funds for recovery and assistance.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, international organizations committed $2.1 billion, and Americans gave $1.43 billion in response (López-Rivera & Preston, 2012). The use of social media played a crucial role in the philanthropic response to the earthquake. Approximately $43 million was donated through “text-to-donate” campaigns – an innovative way to donate that had previously been limited (Strom, 2012; Weberling & Waters, 2011). In a of 863 individuals who texted donations following the Haitian earthquake, 45 percent of respondents asked others survey to do the same; 21 percent did so through social media (Smith, 2012).  In the day immediately following the earthquake, a staff reporter for CNN Money wrote that the trending topics on Twitter consisted of requests for donations from both the American Red Cross and rapper Wyclef Jean for his charity, Yele (Pepitone, 2010). The American Red Cross raised $22 million in texted donations for the relief effort within the first few days (Kang, 2010). Jean’s tweets reportedly resulted in text messages amounting to $1 million worth of $5 donations committed in a single day (Siegel, 2010).

What caused an outpouring of generosity in this manner? Likewise, how did organizations providing relief efforts use their social networks to mobilize in the wake of the earthquake? While much research has been done on the use of text-to-donate and other components of the earthquake response (such as Smith, 2012 and Slagh, 2010), little research has been performed on the role of social capital and Twitter. This paper seeks to fill that void.

Foundations and Research Question

Social capital fundamentally consists of the ties that individuals and networks have with one another and how those relationships influence outcomes in both a positive and negative manner (Narayan, 1999). Ties may function as “bonding” or “bridging,” thereby providing different benefits to the network. The ties that bond create a strong local network wherein the network members (nodes, to use the language of social network analysis) can access other network nodes and their resources with ease. Bridging ties conjoin disparate networks and connect outside nodes and resources.

Rodríguez-Pose and Storper (2006) describe bonding and bridging in a different manner.  For them, bonding is the creation of cohesive groups of individuals and bridging, facilitated by norms, permits collaboration to occur between diverse groups.  As such, bridging relationships may aid in the process of “searching and obtaining resources” (Lin, 1999, p. 34). This transfer of knowledge and assets between distinct networks and the ties that make such transactions possible are foundational to a social network-based development framework (Narayan, 1999). The successes, or failures, that organizations – both formal and informal – achieve in their attempts to meet objectives can, in part, be attributed to their network structure, norms, and the ability to utilize bonds and bridges to achieve an objective or outcome (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000).

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, formal and informal networks were activated immediately following the disaster. Strong, local bonded networks ensured that rampant looting did not occur (Dubois, 2012). Bridging networks helped the large diaspora connect with their relatives. Likewise, individuals who donated to relief efforts in response to calls via social media demonstrated collective action as participants of digital social networks. These social networks demonstrated bridging characteristics through connecting global donors with the needs of organizations operating in the field. Meanwhile, technology made such collaborations possible and easier.

Social capital, according to Fukuyama (2001), is a phenomenon that “promotes co-operation between two or more individuals” and results in “trust, networks, (and) civil society” among other organizations (p. 7). As such, he argues that social capital can be quantified as ranges of trust, wherein groups having wider “radiuses of trust” (p. 5) experience more beneficial outcomes than those networks or organizations with a lesser degree of intragroup trust.

Greater social capital, thus, corresponds with heightened trust and group cohesion, which should result in a collective outcome, such as an outpouring of support after a disaster. This trend begs the following question:  To what extent does the online social capital of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who responded to the Haitian earthquake correlate with their fundraising? I will analyze this question through the usage of two lenses. First, I will examine it by exploring of the social capital demonstrated by four NGOs in online interactions on Twitter during a three-month period immediately following the earthquake in the context of retweets.1 A retweet occurs when one user reposts another user’s tweet (sometimes adding additional content or commentary) thus making this retweet visible to their followers.2 Second, I will analyze the content of messages or interactions by the same organizations within the same time period. This dual methodology will lead to the resolution of the following hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1. Social capital will be determined relative to the other organizations analyzed based on number of retweets and influence ratings of followers that retweeted the organization’s original content. The significance of the exploration of retweeting behavior is that, as Cha (2010) writes, “retweets have the power of amplification” (p. 3).  Cha goes on to state that retweets also indicate agreement or support, however this is not inherently a component of retweeting so such assumptions are not made within the context of this paper. Likewise, in a study of social capital and retweeting behavior, Recuero, Araujo, and Zago (2011) conclude that “all three benefits of information access as a form of social capital […] influenced retweets” (p. 7).  It is anticipated that organizations demonstrating high levels of social capital relative to other organizations will receive more donations.

Hypothesis 2.  The qualitative analysis performed will explore how the organizations utilized their social capital to establish support. Based on the literature reviewed, it is anticipated that organizations will, in addition to employing their social capital through donation-seeking behavior, share information with followers and build trust to cultivate existing social capital.3 However, the types of messages sent and message frequency remains to be seen and will be derived from the data gathered.

Literature Review

Social Capital
In research pertaining to the impact of social capital on charitable activities and volunteerism, Brown and Ferris (2007) found that social capital due to network position resulted in a greater philanthropic response. This finding correlates with my assertion that organizations with greater network-driven social capital will possess the ability to successfully leverage this asset to acquire more donations for disaster relief.

Embeddedness, as defined by Woolcock and Narayan (2000) is the “nature and extent of the ties connecting citizens and public officials” (236). Such a definition, however, could be modified to be applicable to this study, wherein embeddedness would refer to the “nature and extent of ties connecting citizens” and non-profit organizations through social media, producing transnational collective action. This would be consistent with Nahapiet and Ghoshal’s 2007 citation of Granovetter’s 1992 work Problems and explanations in economic sociology which, Nahapiet and Ghoshal assert, defines relational embeddedness as the relational outcome due to exchanges over bonding and bridging ties of varying degrees of strength that are formed and modified due to a conglomeration of interactions over time (p. 244).

This research builds on a body of work, such as that performed by Muralidharan et al. (2011) examining the content of Facebook and Twitter posts in the same context by not-for-profit and media organizations. They found that nonprofits used positive emotional appeals and disseminated information through the use of social media, concluding that “nonprofits seem to encourage a steady stream of visitors to Facebook and Twitter, forming an important means of increasing donations and active participation” (p. 177). It is anticipated that the utilization of these trends to increase social capital will be evident in my analysis as well.

Collective Action
This study does not merely examine how NGOs used their social capital during a specified period of time, but also to what extent it correlates with their fundraising efforts.  One of the significant functions of social capital (both in achieving positive and negative ends) is that it can result in powerful collective action that would be unachievable otherwise (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998).4

Social capital facilitates collective action and produces synergies (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000; Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). Therefore, collective mobilization is significant in that it is an indication of the existence of social capital, which is of little use unless it provides a benefit for the network. To this end, Lin (1999) writes that the essence of social capital is the “resources embedded in a social structure which are accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (p. 35), and that social capital is “investment in social relations with expected returns” (p. 30). Therefore, it is logical that organizations would cultivate online relationships as an avenue to generate a base of supporters and advocates on whom they could call to garner financial support when need be.

Tilly, while writing on collective violence, takes a relational perspective on collective action wherein the interpersonal characteristics of actors either lead to the escalation or de-escalation of violence (2003). Mechanisms that spur the interaction between the internal (conflict, in this instance) and the external are, according to Tilly, environmental, cognitive, and relational in nature. In the response to the Haitian earthquake, a number of mechanisms are identifiable, and the existence of such mechanisms supports the argument that the response through an outpouring of generosity is an instance of collective action.

In this regard, mechanisms such as reverse boundary activation become essential. For Tilly, boundary activation occurs when the defining characteristics that form an “us-them” dichotomy become important to interaction, where they were previously not germane (p. 21). In boundary deactivation, the boundaries that historically have been significant for interaction, namely that of national identity, were momentarily lifted. Such deactivation is evident in the response of generosity that in America rivaled such an outpouring that would have occurred for a city of our own.5 Likewise, Tilly writes about the mechanism of brokerage, which occurs through “connecting at least two social sites more directly than they were previously connected” (p.21). It is anticipated that retweeting will be evidence of brokerage.

Both Jacobs (1984) and Scott and Storper (2003) write that city regions are essential to development. In a world of increased connections due to technological advances, I would argue that the significance of city regions, such as their network structures enhancing the lives of residents, are no longer characterized as being located solely in geographic proximity to a city. Rather, the use of new technologies to mobilize collective action can harness the benefits of city regions at a global level. The dense ties associated with urban areas and the economic life that can be sustained in larger city regions is mimicked at times in online spaces, particularly in response to an instance of great global need or outrage, correlating with Tarrow’s theory of the “rooted cosmopolitan” (2006, p. 42). Indeed, in the mobilization of support following the earthquake, Twitter functioned as a conduit connecting local activists and their social networks with global needs.

Intellectual Capital
Information, statistics, and updates shared by an organization have the potential to be classified as intellectual capital, a classification which pays homage to other forms of capital (notably human capital) through the acknowledgement of the value inherent in the sharing of knowledge and the potential that such transactions represent (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). In this instance, intellectual capital is shared with Twitter users to meet an objective. Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) write that intellectual capital is an “exchange [that] involves the transfer of explicit knowledge either individually or collectively held, as in the exchange of information […]via the Internet” (p. 248). Intra-network trust means that such exchanges and collaborations are possible and encouraged by social capital (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). This phenomenon occurs in reverse as well, where the sharing of information and spread of intellectual capital can work to facilitate the development of trust within or between networks.

The sharing of intellectual capital between networks occurs as a result of network bridges. The transfer of information, according to Rodríguez-Pose and Storper (2006), contributes to increasing network members’ “confidence that their knowledge will be used by members of other communities to their mutual benefit” (p. 8). There are a number of ways that such information transfer could be viewed in this case and the sharing of information about processes, actions on the ground, and donation information can be viewed as a way both to increase donor trust as well as encourage further institutional support. In this regard, it is risky for an organization to admit the challenges they face in implementing their development projects to a diverse audience that is likely not comprised of development practitioners. For some organizations this might be viewed as a liability, wherein admitting the challenges would erode support. However, from the perspective that utilizing bridges to share information provides mutual benefit, it becomes evident that admitting challenges can arouse further support due to an increased understanding of the dire conditions on the ground.

North (1990) develops his theory of institutions based on an assumption that the expense of information is significantly comprised of the cost of transacting. These transaction costs arise from asymmetries of information and associated distrust of other network actors. For potential donors, undoubtedly the trust associated with a well-known organization has the potential to significantly reduce the transaction costs associated with donating. In this regard, it is essential for organizations, in the course of their online communications, to interact with the general public – including potential or current donors ­– in a manner that enhances trust and credibility, thereby strengthening their existing social capital and potentially expanding it.


In July 2010, National Public Radio conducted a survey of the most well known and the largest non-governmental organizations in the United States who responded to the Haitian earthquake (“Post-quake giving,” n.d.). In January 2012 the Chronicle of Philanthropy produced a similar report outlining the organizations that raised the most money following the earthquake (“Responding to Haiti,” 2012). Nine organizations appear on both of these lists; the top two (the American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services) and bottom two (Oxfam American and CARE) fundraisers of these nine are examined in this paper.6

This paper focuses on the domestic fundraising of these organizations within the United States. As such, the only Twitter posts that are analyzed are those that were sent from the American branches of the organizations. Catholic Relief Services, however, had two domestic Twitter feeds, both of which posted information regarding their response to the earthquake. Rather than attempt to decide which one to analyze based on arbitrary methodology, they have both been included, although analyzed separately.

The totality of the germane tweets as outlined above was retrieved using the archive search features of The influence rating of each organization,7 as assigned by, and those whom the organization retweeted was included in the collection of tweets. The tweets that do not pertain to the Haitian earthquake were not considered in this analysis.  Once the tweets, their corresponding numbers of retweets, and influence ratings were recorded, qualitative in vivo coding took place, wherein each tweet’s content was coded at least once and a corresponding codebook was developed. All of the retweets that the organizations made were additionally coded based on the Tweet’s origin and content.

A second coder reviewed the codes for accuracy. The second coder did not recommend the development or usage of any new codes, but did suggest the inclusion of existing codes for certain data points. Thirty-seven recommendations were made. After thorough review, four of those recommended were not utilized. The data was supplemented by the inclusion of the remaining thirty-three.


Hypothesis 1

According to Boyd, Golder, and Lotan (2010), retweeting is often utilized to share knowledge or interact with other users. Frequently, retweeting is requested by organizations as a means to access the social networks of their followers. In other instances, followers who organically undertake retweeting may comment on these retweets or interact with them in another way. While these specifics are not examined here, the data is useful nonetheless.

As indicated in Appendix A, Table 1, the American Red Cross, was the leader in fundraising, by far (“Haiti earthquake relief,” 2012). They also had the largest number of retweets from both non-influential and Influential followers receiving an average of 111.66 and 15.46 retweets respectively. They sent the second highest number of tweets and demonstrated significant social capital based on retweets relative to the other three organizations examined. Perhaps one of the most well known relief organizations in the United States, the American Red Cross was able to effectively mobilize their network to receive significant donations, even obtaining support from those who had not previously given to relief efforts. For example, of the three million unique text message-based donors who contributed over $32 million to the American Red Cross shortly following the earthquake, 95 percent had not previously contributed to the organization via text message or otherwise (Butcher, 2010). According to Butcher (2010), the Red Cross also utilized the data received from 1.5 million of these donors to encourage them to become followers on Twitter, thus seeking to strengthen their existing network on the social media site.

Catholic Relief Services was the second greatest fundraiser examined (“Haiti earthquake relief,” 2012). Both of the Catholic Relief Services’ Twitter accounts have lower influence rankings than the other three organizations examined, with @CatholicRelief categorized as Influential and @CRSNews receiving no influence ranking whatsoever (“Topsy @catholicrelief,” 2012; “Topsy @CRSNews,” 2012). It is thus unsurprising that they received the fewest average number of retweets; many of @CRSNews’ tweets that were retweeted were done so by @CatholicRelief. This finding clearly does not support the hypothesis that organizations with greater social capital demonstrated in this context received greater donations.

While the scope of this paper does not explore the development and execution of social capital outside of the online sphere, it is likely that Catholic Relief Services has a large degree of social capital given their designation as the American Catholic church’s official international development and aid body (“About Catholic Relief Services,” 2012).  As such, they used their online activity to encourage individuals to give through their congregations by providing information about materials parishes could use for fundraising (CatholicRelief, 2010a).8 They may believe their audience is more limited in scope than some of the other organizations and could therefore explain why they utilized Twitter in a different manner.

Oxfam America had the second highest average number of retweets from both uninfluential and Influential sources, but while gathering the data it became evident that a number of the Influential retweets originated from the parent organization’s Twitter account, which may skew the data slightly. Oxfam International’s Twitter account, as of December 2012 had 318,043 followers compared to Oxfam America’s 142,038 followers (“Twitter: Oxfam International,” n.d; “Twitter: Oxfam America,” n.d.). Likewise, Oxfam raised a great deal more money worldwide ($120,000,000 compared to $30,000,000 raised in the U.S.), which could play a role in these findings (“Haiti Earthquake Relief,” 2012). Examining the ways in which organizations with multiple Twitter accounts with regional focuses respond to a disaster could be an area for future research to address.

Of the five Twitter accounts and four organizations examined, the one that raised the least amount of money – CARE – was the most prolific tweeter during the three-month period examined. However, the average number of retweets received both from non-influential and Influential sources (7.21 and 1.33 respectively) is slightly less than that of Oxfam America (7.34 and 1.34 average retweets for non-influential and Influential users respectively), thus indicating that the volume of tweets did not result in more follower interactions through retweeting. While CARE may not be a household name like the American Red Cross or Oxfam, they are not obscure, either. According to Charity Navigator, a website that rates and evaluates non-profit organizations, CARE’s ranking page was viewed 449,243 times between August 2006 and March 2012 making it the ninth most popular organization on the website (“[Ten] all time most popular,” 2012).

Ultimately, particularly given the outlier of the retweet statistics pertaining to Catholic Relief Services, hypothesis one was not validated.

Hypothesis 2

The data indicates that there are four main categories that demonstrate how organizations use social capital in their original tweets. The hypothesis that they would exhibit donation seeking, information providing, and trust-building behaviors is evident in the tweets examined for each organization. In addition, the organizations directly sought to gain more followers and encouraged interaction on other forms of social media. These findings were not anticipated, but are helpful to understanding how, and the extent to which, organizations use their social capital in the online space of Twitter.

After coding of the data, relevant codes were assigned to the categories of Developing social capital: Building followers and follower interactions; Enhancing social capital: Work on the ground and Credibility building; and Seeking to capitalize on social capital: Fundraising and donations.

Developing social capital: building followers and follower interactions

Based on the literature, it was not anticipated that organizations would take specific steps to gain followers, although this finding is not surprising given the desire to expand social networks to incorporate more members, particularly given the influence ratings of the accounts examined.

The influence ratings assigned by examine historical tweet and re-tweet data to determine the impact that each tweet sent by an account will have on other Twitter users. The most influential .2 percent are classified as Highly Influential whereas the top .5 percent are assigned a ranking of Influential (“What is influence,” 2012). 9 To gain re-tweets, generally speaking, Twitter users must first have followers. As social media is ideally a two-way method of communication, there must be an “other” with whom organizations can interact to develop and capitalize on their social capital.

In this regard, it is important to not only look at what organizations do to gain followers, but how many followers they have. Archives of this data for specific users are difficult to acquire and can be inaccurate given the prevalence of spam and fake accounts. However, in spite of these shortcomings, these figures can be helpful to the development of an initial understanding of a Twitter user’s popularity. One of the challenges with building institutional support on a social media site is that the joining costs are low for the potential donor, thus the costs associated with no longer following (or leaving the network all together) are relatively minimal to the average user.

As Appendix B, Table 1 indicates, the American Red Cross and CARE have the most number of followers (“Twitter: RedCross,” n.d.; “Twitter: CARE,” n.d.). They also sent the highest number of tweets. Despite having a lower number of followers, Oxfam America also has a Highly Influential rating, as evidenced in Appendix A, Table 1 (“Topsy @oxfamamerica,” 2012; “Topsy @redcross,” 2012). Catholic Relief Services’ more popular Twitter account (@CatholicRelief) is rated Influential, which correlates with its reduced number of followers and fewer re-tweet statistics relative to the other organizations examined (“Topsy @catholicrelief,” 2012). Catholic Relief Services’ @CRSNews’ Twitter account has the smallest number of followers and no influence rating (“Topsy @crsnews,” 2012).

It is clear that organizations develop these followers and keep them engaged, but how? The tactics observed are rather diverse. A common practice on Twitter is to ask other users to retweet information or to request followers find the organization’s page on another social media website, such as Facebook. Both of these methods were observed. The American Red Cross, Oxfam America, and CARE asked for web-based interaction, such as connecting on another social media site. Likewise, four out of the five accounts analyzed requested that followers share information with others.

For both of these methods, CARE most frequently made such requests. CARE requested that followers find and follow their organizational page on Facebook,10 (and encouraged followers to interact with content on Facebook),11 subscribe to their YouTube channel,12 and follow the Twitter accounts of CARE staff (CARE, 2010a; CARE, 2010b; CARE, 2010c; CARE, 2010d).13 The American Red Cross and Oxfam America also encouraged users to follow staff Twitter accounts for additional information and all three organizations retweeted information from their respective employees. Linking to and retweeting from an individual’s social media account increases the human aspect of the organization, thus allowing the organization to interact with followers in a less institutional manner. These interactions can build affinity and trust (Searles & Weinberger, 2000 as cited in Smith, 2010). Building trust in this manner was unanticipated at the outset of this research.

Other instances of developing social capital were through direct interaction with followers – a messaging activity that was anticipated due to the relational nature of the literature. The occurrences of direct interaction were not as prevalent as the aforementioned follower building activities, but did occur from time to time. Such posts included responding to a technical problem,14 responding to inquiries,15 and stating that they were listening to requests for supplies (CatholicRelief, 2010b; OxfamAmerica, 2010c; RedCross 2010a).16 It is possible that further interactions of this nature were undertaken in the context of private messages, which would not be publically available in the archive utilized for this research.

Enhancing social capital. The category for enhancing social capital is divided into two components as a result of the organizational work on the ground, with data being varied and trust building occurring in a number of ways. This primary category is primarily where intellectual capital is shared by the organizations to their followers, and the majority of the codes seek to build trust in the institution either directly or indirectly.

Enhancing social capital: work on the ground.  For the entirety of the data analyzed, the code “On the ground – response” occurred more frequently than any other code for three of the four organizations (Appendix C, Table 2).17 All organizations used their Twitter feed to outline future plans for their work in Haiti, conditions on the ground, and challenges of the work. Each organization additionally stated at least once that they were working in conjunction with other NGOs. The American Red Cross, Oxfam America, and CARE all mentioned that they had previous experience working in Haiti.

These messages sought not only to share information about relief efforts and conditions in the field, but also aimed to develop the organization’s reputation. The preponderance of the American Red Cross’ codes explained how the organization responded in Haiti ranged from describing immediate objectives,18 updating on response efforts,19 and providing statistics about how donations have been spent (RedCross, 2010b; RedCross, 2010c; RedCross, 2010d).20 This may help to explain their success in fundraising.

Enhancing social capital: credibility building. Two of the most unique codes generated for this category are those of “In the News” and “Celebrity” (Appendix C, Table 3). While the American Red Cross is the most well known organization out of those examined, it did not include any links to their involvement in news stories, which could be due to their significant reputation and regular media coverage. The other three organizations mentioned through the press coverage they received through a variety of ways.

Some organizations utilized their coverage in the news to enhance their credibility directly, such as the tweet sent by Catholic Relief Services (@CatholicRelief) on January 16, 2010, which stated “ABC’s Chris Cuomo: “Nobody’s working harder than Catholic Relief Services.”[…]” (CatholicRelief, 2010c).  Catholic Relief Services mentioned their presence in the news more than any of the three other organizations researched. Given their low social capital in retweets, these tweets could be an alternative method used to build credibility.

Oxfam used their Twitter feed to send followers to news coverage that included information about a staffer’s blog for Huffington Post21 and the organization’s credible work in the field (OxfamAmerica, 2010b; OxfamAmerica, 2010c).22 CARE used similar tactics, such as linking to news stories outlining their work in the field (CARE, 2010e).23 CARE also linked to a video clip from CNN, which covered the distribution of supplies in Port-au-Prince, although CARE was only mentioned once (CARE, 2010f).24 Perhaps most interestingly, CARE used their Twitter account to reach out to CNN’s Breaking News Twitter account to request to be followed (CARE, 2010g).25

In New Media, Old News, Natalie Fenton writes that due to a rise in the number of NGOs, (undoubtedly coupled with a weak global economy) resources for not-for-profit organizations have become increasingly scarce. Thus, while all organizations examined mentioned working with others in the field, they were also competing for limited resources, such as media coverage. According to Fenton (2010), as many organizations seek to increase credibility through press visibility, it becomes more difficult for small organizations to meet the demands of journalists and receive media coverage that might have been easily accessible previously. Therefore, the finding that three of the four organizations linked to organizational coverage in the media could be viewed as an attempt to harness preferential attachment from other journalists researching the topic, thereby seeking to enhance social capital and build credibility with this audience as well as with the general public.

All organizations mentioned celebrity at least once, be it due to a fundraising event,26 a donation,[27. “A big thank you to the @gatesfoundation for your support of CRS #Haiti relief” (CatholicRelief, 2010d).] or an endorsement of the organization’s work (OxfamAmerica, 2010d; CatholicRelief, 2010d; CARE, 2010h).27 Celebrity was most often used by Oxfam America, which had 18 occurrences of this code. Fifteen of the messages associated with this code were appeals for donations or information about fundraising events.

Linking to media was another tactic utilized to enhance social capital and build credibility. All organizations used some form of media links in their Twitter messages; CARE and the American Red Cross used outside media forms the most with 46 and 27 occurrences respectively. CARE, for example, used media to give followers a visual representation of their work on the ground, such as this Tweet on January 17, 2010: “[PHOTO] A @CARE nurse demonstrates how to use water purification tablets we’re distributing in PaP #haiti” (CARE, 2010i). Many of CARE’s tweeted media links directed users to their other social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube, thereby encouraging another type of interaction with the organization as well as providing more information than permitted by Twitter’s character limitations. For example, the image associated with the above tweet was posted on Facebook where a more detailed description was provided (Appendix D, Figure 1).

Media linked to by organizations were both generated by the NGO as well as media found in the press. As the NGO environment has become more competitive in regards to news coverage, non-profits have had to respond by using a more broad range of tools such as blogs, videos, and podcasts (Fenton, 2010). It is likely that these new tools will be used to communicate with the donating public as well.

Seeking to capitalize on social capital: donations and fundraising.

Finally, all organizations utilized their social capital on Twitter to seek donations from followers, as well as build general institutional support (Appendix C, Table 4).

Oxfam America primarily sought donations through tweeting about upcoming fundraising events. All organizations, excluding CARE, provided updates to their followers regarding how much money was donated for the cause since the earthquake. As mentioned previously, large sums were donated via text-to-donate methods. The data examined in this research, however, indicates that while some organizations promoted text-to-donate, it was not promoted more extensively than other donating methods.

Interestingly, the Red Cross raised more funds than the other organizations, but they performed considerably less direct fundraising on Twitter. There were only nine instances of calling for donations of any variety, whereas all other organizations (excluding Catholic Relief Services’ @CRSNews account) had no fewer than ten calls for donations. CARE had the most donation requests with a total of 29. Notably, CARE was also the only organization which offered mobile web as a way to donate, although given the lifting of texting charges for donations following the earthquake, it seems as though this method would be more inconvenient for users.

Conclusions: Going Forward and Lessons Learned

It appears as though social capital does play a role in the amount of funds raised, however, the correlation is not as clear as I originally hoped it would be. Likewise, the four organizations did demonstrate usage of social capital through seeking donations, sharing information, and building trust, but they also worked to develop a follower base. These social capital functions were performed in unique ways that were not anticipated at the outset of the research.

One of the limitations of this research is that it fails to fully incorporate an organization’s social capital outside of the digital sphere. Particularly in the case of the American Red Cross, considerable media coverage outside of the digital realm was dedicated to the organization. Given the institutional reputation of the American Red Cross, many other groups and individuals were fundraising on their behalf. Furthermore, the trust associated with being such a large non-profit means that they were likely able to capitalize on spontaneous donations to a greater extent than other organizations.

This paper only examined the public data pertaining to the online interactions of a small number of non-governmental organizations. Future research could include interviewing those who manage or supervise the social media-based accounts of such organizations to determine if the objectives they have for tweets correlate with the trends and data that are observed. Such research should also include the perspective of a broader group of Twitter users, such as individuals who followed the organizations after the earthquake to determine if they felt an increased sense of trust or were motivated to donate as a result of the messages sent.

It would also be interesting to determine if organizations interact with their followers in a non-public manner, such as sending out private messages thanking followers for their support or answering donation questions. Likewise, exploring how the use of social media post-disaster has changed since 2010 would be beneficial to this research. The public’s understanding of social media has changed since that time, and how it is used has evolved as well.

Finally, this research could expand to include a wider number of organizations to determine if smaller organizations utilize their online social capital in a similar manner or if they adhere to more traditional means of public relations and fundraising.

Stiglitz makes the argument that increased GDP is not a sufficient goal for development as it addresses only one portion of a country’s economic needs and does not rectify the lack of sustainability of short-term economic booms (2007). The same holds true for this case. While global fundraising provided much-needed assistance in the short-term, positive long-term implications of such aid have yet to be seen. Massive amounts of aid have not helped Haiti throughout its storied history, and aid alone will not promote lasting change now, either.

However, engaging with a concerned public and telling compelling stories about why Americans should care about the small Caribbean nation 700 miles off its coast is an important component of garnering long-lasting advocacy and change. An engaged public with significant social capital has the capacity to connect those with skills to those with needs, promote more responsible U.S. government policies, and advocate on the behalf of those who are unable to advocate for themselves. The observed tweets deactivated the boundaries that separate first-world social media users from the very poor in the three manners previously described and connected individuals globally with the disaster and the needs of organizations on the ground. The establishment of the digital ties that occurred after the earthquake is essential to Haiti’s development and should not end now. The aid is temporary, but relationships can lead to long-lasting impact where it is needed most.


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Appendix A

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Appendix B

Table 1
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Appendix C

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Table 2
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Table 3
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Table 4
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Appendix D

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Figure 1Image from CARE Facebook page.

Facebook caption reads: “Photo credit: Evelyn Hockstein/CARE – Edline Cothiere, a nurse with one of CARE Haiti’s local partners, explains how to use water purification packets that CARE is distributing at the Adventist Auditorium in Port-au-Prince. CARE distributed enough packets to clean water for 600 displaced people staying at the church compound.” (CARE, 2010j)

  1. Ye at al. (2012), argue that counting followers may be an effective measurement of social capital as a derivative of notoriety. While follower statistics are important, following does not provide an accurate picture of individuals who are reading and/or interacting with tweets, nor does followership result result in sub-network knowledge sharing.
  2. This paper does not provide an in-depth explanation of the mechanics of Twitter usage, as it has been done sufficiently well elsewhere. For readers unfamiliar with the basic functions of Twitter, I recommend boyd, Golder, and Lotan’s 2010 paper, Tweet, tweet, retweet: Conversational aspects of retweeting on Twitter.
  3. While other message categories likely build trust with current followers, this category includes messages which specifically seek to enhance credibility with followers.
  4. Other authors have written extensively on the negative outcomes that social capital can foster such as Narayan (1999), Woolcock and Narayan (2000), and others. While this topic is worth discussing in the broader context of social capital and collective action in particular, it does not enhance the understanding of the utilization of social capital for this paper, and is thus not included.
  5. In 2011, Dickler wrote that within the week following Hurricane Katrina, $514 million had been raised; for the same timeline $275 million had been raised for Haiti and $209 million had been raised in the seven days following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In contrast, only $87 million was raised after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
  6. Interestingly, Charity Navigator published an article on their website listing organizations that people should consider donating to in the aftermath of the earthquake. These charities were chosen because they were three and four-star (meaning they are effective and transparent), and because they each “have a history of working on massive disasters and/or of working in Haiti.” The American Red Cross and CARE are the only charities of the four I am examining that are on this list. (“Help survivors,” n.d.).
  7. Influence rankings and the problems they present will be explored later in this paper, however, it is helpful to note that, according to, “Highly Influential” correlates with top .2 percent and Influential correlates to the top .5 percent, based on influence (“What is influence,” 2012).
  8. “RT @OSV has some special resources to help your parish help Haiti, including free second-collection offering envelopes:” (CatholicRelief, 2010a)
  9. While these percentages seem small, the rankings are based on the totality of Twitter users – not only those users who are active. According to a study from Barracuda Labs, slightly over 20 percent of Twitter users are active, based on a rubric consisting of a minimum of 10 followers, follows, and tweets each (Parr, 2010).
  10. The # of tweets abt is AMAZING. Thank you Twitter! Let’s spread the word on Facebook too! Pls join” (CARE, 2010a)
  11. “Just uploaded 16 more photos from @care’s work in #haiti to FB. Join our fan page to comment:” (CARE, 2010b)
  12. “Subscribe to @CARE’s YouTube channel to get the latest video updates” (CARE, 2010c)
  13. “Be sure to follow @melaniebrooks for on-the-ground updates about @CARE’s relief work in #Haiti” (CARE, 2010d)
  14. “@OSV We are aware and are working quickly to fix it. Our donation form is on a secure server and still functioning here:” (CatholicRelief, 2010b)
  15. @JessDuda Here you go! The Google map for Oxfam’s work in Haiti is (OxfamAmerica, 2010c)
  16. “We hear those of you with requests for search, rescue and supplies. Doing our best to get information into hands on the ground.” (RedCross, 2010a)
  17. Oxfam America was the one exception with had 39 instances of “On the ground – response” and 40 instances of “Fundraising event”.
  18. “For short term we’re working in 3 basic areas: food and water, relief supplies and logistical and support services.” (RedCross, 2010b)
  19. “We&our partners are now producing~1 million litres of water a day, enough for 185,000 ppl to receive 5.4 litres p/person p/day” (RedCross, 2010c)
  20. “To date, 79% of funds have been committed or spent on food and water; 18% on shelter items; and the rest on health and family services” (RedCross, 2010d)
  21. “Oxfam staffer Coco McCabe is blogging for @huffingtonpost from #Haiti:” (OxfamAmerica, 2010a).
  22. “From NPR: learn about Oxfam’s cash for work project in #Haiti: Amid Spotty Aid, Groups Try Hiring Haitians For Cash –” (OxfamAmerica, 2010b).
  23. “Our COO @shollingworth was on NPR yesterday to talk about #Haiti relief plans:” (CARE, 2010e).
  24. “Haitians Helping Each Other (CNN reporter embedded in @CARE distribution)” (CARE, 2010f)
  25. “@cnnbrk Please follow @care for our updates from Haiti. We’re on the ground distributing aid and reporting on what we’re seeing.” (CARE, 2010g)
  26. “, The Who, Slash, Remix ‘My Generation’ to benefit Oxfam’s #Haiti recovery work. Download available now:” (OxfamAmerica, 2010d).
  27. “How can people be certain that this money is going to go to the people?”; Pres. Clinton gives props to @CARE” (CARE, 2010h).