Twitter for a Cause

Much of New York was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. People lost homes and loved ones. Some are still without power and in the cold. Others can’t get enough gas to fill their cars. Despite this, disasters can sometimes bring out the best in our country as many volunteer  do what they can to help their fellow Americans in need.

Restaurants were also greatly affected by this storm. They lost power, food and a source of income for many employees. When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain tweeted on November 3 telling people to go out to eat and tip higher than normal, four young marketing professional were struck with an idea. Why not start a movement, and use Twitter, to motivate people to do this throughout the city until it was recovered? From there “Eat Down. Tip Up.” was born.

The New York Daily News reports that this campaign encourages New Yorkers to visit local Manhattan restaurants, tip liberally and tell others you did so by tweeting a picture of your bill with #EatDownTipUp. In just over a week since launch, there have been more than 800 tweets doing exactly this.

So why did this work? How did this campaign get people, many of whom were experiencing hardship, to go out to help others? Here’s what I think:

As the New York Daily News said, “Community is the crux of Eat Down.” This community element was crucial for a couple of reasons. First, the four founders had to mobilize their own communities to get word to spread. Working in the field every day, they knew they needed to inform their own networks to spark action. Secondly, people had to know that others like them were hurting, and feel empowered to help.  #EatDownTipUp allowed people to be informed and take action.

Twitter is the perfect tool to spread a movement like this. The use of hashtags, photos and locations can spread the message across the city and around the country. The simplicity of the idea and the platform makes it easier for people to identify how and where they can participate. Also, starting the campaign off a celebrity tweet lends a different kind of credibility and larger coverage.

The movement has also inspired a sense of empathy in people. The website has a “restaurants stories” section where visitors can read about how some of their favorite restaurants were affected by the storm and what it meant for their business. These pages are simple and allow the restaurants to tell users how to help, which folds right back into the larger mission. Personalizing the movement can lead to this empathy of action because people are viewing others that they might have seen only days before working in situations that are no longer possible.  It also gave people a way to pitch in when they may not have known what to do otherwise.

While people do like helping others, they also like to get credit and show others what they’ve done. The idea of people physically showing what they spent and what they tipped is a brilliant one. Businesses get the help they need and participants have a venue to show their entire network how they were involved. Could this push others to want to do the same? I think so

The power of a social network is large. Through Twitter, the movement amplified goals through a larger audience and mobilized New Yorkers. Using multiple networks and making it easy to share has spread this idea and led to the help that local businesses need.