Cool Content: Simon Davis on using content in the Haiti crisis

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Simon Davis
On the 12th January 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti. Within hours, the Governement’s humanitarian team is assessing and looking to get people on the grounds. And the comms team need to be communicating as quickly. Their aim was to show the impact of the aid while it was happening, while being the authoritative voice of the UK government. They had to inform the public, other aid workers and the news makers. Long term, they wanted to turn spikes on interest into enduring engagement.

They started with fact sheets for the public, and for aid workers on the ground. They got updates from the secretary of state out on Twitter. Timescales are the big thing in this situation. You need people hands-on around the clock. You need people on call, and systems ready for breaking events.

Their suggestions:

  • Work with what you’ve got – draw on available content, update and customise it to the event
  • Work with pruners to bring in other content
  • See what your people in the field can contribute
  • Be creative with what you get – what can you do at home base to supplement what’s coming from the site?

They pushed updates that came to then via Text out through Twitter, using hashtags to indicate whose updates they were. Press officers are often frustrated journalists – and love being the ones getting the news out there.


  • Updates on the ground – rolling news page, Twitter
  • Pictures of the aid’s impact – Flickr and YouTube
  • Experts from London – blog

Photos and videos of British firefighters in action in Haiti were reused by national news media.

How did they then sift to ongoing engagement? They kept the coverage going beyond the media spotlight. They kept using real life stories, about the people helped. And they did progress reports, including  bit multimedia feature six months and a year on.

Have a digital team ready to deploy to the scene of a disaster

Interactive content could offer an immersive understanding. Digital content can really aid people in understanding both the impact of a disaster and of aid on the ground – that excites him. Emerging digital platforms are becoming a huge part of aid efforts, allowing people to communicate their situation – and aid workers to assess and plan.

Everything this did is still on the DFID website.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.