For me it started out as a way to document thoughts, observations, and memories throughout the trip. But the cool part about it was that others back home would be able to read my notes. The idea of taking our whole church on our mission trip to Haiti wasn’t fully realized until much later.
The concept was really pretty simple: I tweet, they read.
I never expected to experience what ended up happening.
Let me start by telling you how I set everything up. It’s an important part of how this whole thing worked itself out.
Using this approach would have guaranteed that I’d have phone service that worked down there, but would’ve required me to a great deal of ‘set-up’ once I got the new (temporary) phone from a local dealer outside the airport.
Luckily my provider (Verizon Wireless) has a cool global plan that I was able to get with unlimited data for about $20.0o (prorated for the time I used it). And since my DROID (unfortunately) didn’t work on the GSM network, I even got a loaner Blackberry for only the cost of shipping (about $10).
The Power of Twitter
Then the key to the whole plan was centered around Twitter.
Everything else was about how I streamed the updates to people who wanted to follow along. Here’s a quick list of the various elements involved with making it as easy as possible for people to connect:
- Obviously, they could follow my Twitter stream directly. Some even set up text message alerts for my tweets so they would instantly get the updates on their mobile phone as they happened.
- I also have Facebook set up to use my Twitter updates to update my Facebook status. Then I would get emails from Facebook when people commented on my Facebook statuses. This became an important part of the back-and-forth communication. More on that in a minute…
- The Twitter Tools plugin for my self-hosted WordPress blog gave me the ability to create a ‘daily digest’ post automatically with a list of my tweets throughout the day. This gave many the ability to look at one post each day and see everything that we did throughout the day. Check out this example to see what one of these posts looks like.
- Even though people could subscribe to the blog to get updated about new posts, I still tried to make it easier for them by creating a central page that I could update (with the WordPress plugin for Blackberry) that had all of the latest links and even a Flickr gallery (also updated via Blackberry). I even gave it a custom URL to make it as simple as possible for people to remember how to get there: http://bibledude.net/haiti
- Finally, NetworkedBlogs on Facebook allowed me to easily feed the blog posts onto the walls for my personal profile, my blog’s page, and the church’s page.
The only thing that I had to do to make all of this tick was to send updates to Twitter. After all of this, I was certain that people would be able to get the updates that they wanted.
As I got emails from Facebook with people’s comments on the status updates, I thought it would be cool to share some of the encouragement that people back home were sending. Most of it was simple feedback like, “Wow! How cool! Praying for you guys!”
But I wasn’t expecting what happened next…
One day when we were out in a remote village delivering food I snapped a picture of some of our people singing and dancing with the locals. It was a great icebreaker as we started connecting with these people, many of whom haven’t had anything substantial to eat in about three weeks.
Within about 15 minutes of uploading this tweet/photo, I got an email notification from someone who had commented on the photos that I was sending. It was from a full-time missionary (from our church) who is living/serving in Morocco. She wanted me to let one of the ladies in the photo know that she needed to put on some sunscreen because she was looking a little burnt.
That single comment shattered all of the constraints of time and distance that I previously had in my mind, and I quickly realized that we weren’t just sending little notes back home… we are ALL on this trip together. After that we started sharing updates back and forth, and people back home (and all around the world) opened up conversation with us. The prayers and encouragement that people were able to send to us ended up being very specific and targeted, just as if they were there with us.
I don’t think that our church will ever do a mission trip again without a strong social media strategy as a core part of what we do.
It turned out to be a great way to allow our whole church to be involved well beyond writing a check ahead of time and hearing a few short testimonies afterwards.