Ranchers and farmers have traditionally taken care of their own in the face of disaster. With the current fires, they have social media activism help.
The central US is on fire. Literally. Farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are in a race against deadly wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas. There aren’t any national relief telethons, nor are there updates on the half-hour on CNN. Most people outside the affected areas probably aren’t even aware of the disaster, though thousands of heads of livestock and several people have lost their lives to the blazes.
Governors in the states affected have ordered certain restrictions in order to facilitate relief reaching the people on the ground coping with the devastation. For example, Texas Governor Abbott has suspended restrictions and permitting for transporting hay to feed the livestock that have been rescued. The governors have also collectively appealed to the Department of Agriculture to suspend some grazing restrictions in conservation programs due to the fires.
But while those actions are welcomed and helpful, they don’t deliver hay, they don’t move livestock, they don’t feed or house displaced people; they just help make it easier for people to do so. Provided, of course, that people know about the crisis. So what do you do when the media isn’t covering a story like this, and people aren’t aware of the situation or how they can help?
You copy Kaylin Maree Schimpf.
Kaylin is a very busy young woman. She lives outside the DFW area, and she works, she writes, she cares for animals, and has an engaged following on Facebook. This week, in response to the devastation in the Texas panhandle, she put out the word that she had hay to send to affected ranchers, and had connections to cowboys who would be happy to help with livestock or any ranch duties. Her followers in the area responded with links to where to drop off donated hay, and offers of trucks and trailers to haul it. The posts became a small clearinghouse for her followers to learn how to help in practical ways.
And then Friday Kaylin shared this image, asking for prayers and patience on the road as she and others deliver much needed relief to the affected ranchers. And then some of her followers shared it. And then a few more shared it.
Because of Kaylin, hundreds of thousands of people saw the Heart of Texas respond to their neighbors in need, and many were able to learn how they could help, whether they lived nearby or across the country. Some of them were completely unaware of the crisis before they saw the post, and shared it to make sure others in their circle were aware of the situation. And she’s well aware of the effect that her post is having. Kaylin reported Saturday that her post has caused mainstream media outlets to contact her, giving her the opportunity to ‘put the struggles of the panhandle, Kansas and Oklahoma in front of Americans everywhere.’
There wasn’t anything really political about what Kaylin did, either. There was no cry for help from the government, no grandstanding about which party might be at fault, not even an appeal for an elected official to tour the area and be seen to look alternately sad and determined about the events at hand. This was a regular person identifying a need, exploring how to fill it, and pulling together the resources to do it. No lobbying, no yelling, no fumbling with bureaucracy; just finding a way to help people in need, and then helping them.
When I discussed ‘building muscle’ in our Get Fit Activism Series, I was referring to the political possibilities. The intent was to influence politicians using money or votes. But Kaylin flexed a different type of muscle for a different purpose. Her following allowed her to inform multitudes of people about a problem to be solved, and though her page she was able to direct her audience to platforms where they could help, such as the Working Ranch Cowboys Association. She didn’t look at the devastation and say ‘Somebody should do something about that!’ She went straight to ‘What can I do about it?’
It’s a good reminder that good-hearted people putting their heads together can accomplish quite a lot, without the government being involved at all. And that perhaps our first approach to a problem or a crisis shouldn’t involve lobbying or legislation, but instead taking an active approach to first try to find a solution ourselves.
So looking at Kaylin’s efforts practically, what else can we take away from the situation? How can we learn from her?
- Tell a Story – When faced with a challenge you want to tackle, find a compelling, personal way to illustrate your point. Kaylin’s hay donation runs help tell the story of all the affected ranchers.
- Use a Helpful Image – Kaylin’s picture is merely of hay bales in a side-view mirror. But it’s intriguing, and it captures the attention long enough to entice people to read the accompanying text.
- Provide an Action Item – When you share a post to inform or educate people, give them something they can do about it. Kaylin asks for prayers, but also provides elsewhere information so people can help with donations.
- Boost the Sharing – Look at Kaylin’s Facebook post again. As I write this, under the image is the share count of 106,517. That’s how many people have shared the image. But if you click that image, a window pops up to show you those shares. If you like or react to other people’s shares, it puts the story back into the feeds of their followers; it’s almost like resharing it each time you like a post. That, in turn, brings many more eyeballs onto the story, and more shares, and on and on. You can do this with any post on Facebook; look for the share count, like the posts listed there, and keep a good story circulating.
- Make Connections – When you share the story you want to tell, refer back to it often for people who comment or like or respond to it. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage and befriend someone who seems like they may be a good ally on your issue, or recruit them to join you in your activism. Keep building your following through your social media in order to magnify what you’re able to do outside of it.
LEARN HOW TO HELP:
Working Ranch Cowboys Association – http://wrca.org/foundation/
WRCA Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/wrcarodeo
How to help in each state (scroll to bottom) – http://www.cattlenetwork.com/news/industry/wildfire-update-governors-suspend-trucking-restrictions