Wendy Harman describes how the Red Cross expands its reach using social media.

The American Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian operation. It coordinates staff people, volunteers, other agencies and donors to help people in need, particularly after natural disasters. It coordinates blood donation drives and provides health and safety training in everything from First Aid for babysitters to CPR for first responders.

Before being named director of Red Cross information management and situational awareness in disaster cycle services a year ago, Wendy Harman spent the previous six and a half years as the organization’s director of social engagement and social strategy. During that time, she built up the use of social media to help Red Cross efforts.

“Our mission and philosophy around how social works best at the Red Cross is that we are very tactically valuable with every utterance we make, whether that’s providing emotional support, giving directions to the nearest shelter, providing locations of our nearest blood drive or even telling someone how to do CPR real quick,” says Harman.

She took the job in disaster services, she says, “because I was finding myself much more interested in how to execute our mission by enabling communities to participate in it more, and to really begin to erase the line between what it means to be a Red Crosser and just a regular person. I think that technology has a lot to do with that.”

In a conversation with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review's Social Business Big Idea Initiative, Harman explains how Red Cross is using social media in its work around the three cycles of disaster: preparedness, response and recovery.

You spent over six years as director of Red Cross’ social engagement and social strategy, and now you’ve moved over to disaster services. What was the opportunity you saw?

Social was still sitting in a bubble on the outside of the structure. We were responding to everything and all working very well together, but social wasn’t yet a part of the way we do business. I took this position because I think we have the opportunity to start baking in some of that.