GOOD NEWS FRIDAY sponsored by Liberation Farm: SOCIAL NETWORKING FOR A CAUSE
By Ray Paulick
We’ve all heard of online social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Some of us have experimented with these web sites to keep in touch with friends and family, make new acquaintances or promote our businesses, charitable activities or social causes.
On one extreme there is someone like the University of Kentucky’s new men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, who has accumulated more than 175,000 “followers” at Twitter.com (people who sign up to receive the frequent updates he sends out in 140-characters “tweets.”) The latest from Coach Cal: “Busy day. Great mtg w/ music dept, who I want to help. Mike Pratt stopped by & we x-o a little. Ran on campus w/ Robes. Saw my team (:-).”
At the other end of the popularity chain is a Facebook social group of three individuals from the not so popular sport of lawn bowling.
The best example I’ve found in the racing industry of how social networking can play an important and beneficial role was the Facebook page set up by former racing publicist Brock Sheridan in the wake of the accident at Arlington Park on May 23 that left jockey Rene Douglas severely injured.
The “Rene Douglas Get Well Card” Facebook group has nearly 3,500 members who are able to send their best wishes to Douglas, and get regular updates on the jockey’s condition from family friend Doreen Razo, wife of jockey Eddie Razo, as well as learn of fund-raising activities to help the Douglas family during this very difficult time. You don’t have to be a member of Facebook to view the page. Click here to see it.
Sheridan is a financial adviser to jockeys and trainers who had only recently set up a blog called “The Brock Talk” as well as Facebook and Twitter pages. I have been so impressed by how much the “Rene Douglas Get Well Card” has benefitted the racing industry and asked Sheridan a few questions about the experience. Following is our exchange.
When/how did it occur to do the “Rene Douglas Get Well Card” page on Facebook?
Brock Sheridan: On Sunday morning following the accident, I was working on my blog and reading drf.com and learned of the accident. At that time, I had been on Facebook about two months and was still learning about its applications and decided this was an opportunity to try to do something nice with what I was learning on Facebook.
What were your original expectations and goals?
I honestly thought that if I could get 25 of my friends to post some well wishes and prayers on the “wall” of the Get Well Card on Facebook, it would be something nice to maybe print out and send to the hospital inside a conventional get well card.
All I did was produce the Card and write on my Facebook status “just created a Rene Douglas Get Well card group on Facebook. Feel free to post your messages, well wishes and prayers for Rene who took a bad spill at Arlington Park yesterday.” I didn’t even send out an invitation to friends to join the group. I was maybe going to do that after I had finished my work on my blog.
The first member was (racing consultant) Lonny Powell, who had just started on Facebook, and the first person to post a message was John Hernandez (a radio show host from California), who I had worked with on some Facebook marketing ideas. My honest reaction was, “that’s nice… those are two good guys in horse racing.”
When did you realize there was going to be a greater response than expected?
Almost immediately. Within a few hours more than 50 Facebook members had posted messages to Rene and at around 6:30 that night, people were posting messages at a rate of one every 2-5 minutes for a while. I was struck by two things: the heartfelt and sincerity of the messages and that these messages were being posted by people I didn’t know. By the end of the first day, I had 69 get well wishes to send to Rene and I was very pleased.
But Memorial Day Monday was when things began to really surprise me. We passed 1,000 members and had 169 additional wall posts with messages for Rene. By that time members started sending me messages to my personal Facebook page asking about Rene’s condition and where to send money, questions for which I had no answers. So I knew that I now had an opportunity to help Rene and felt a sense of responsibility to get this information out to these members.
That’s when the milestones started.
That afternoon, I had sent an e-mail to Anthony Granitza, president of the Illinois Race Track Chaplaincy, asking about where to send money. Anthony replied within a few hours and had copied me in his e-mail to Nancy La Sala at the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. Nancy sent me an e-mail the next day (Tuesday) and informed me that a fund would be set up in time and that she would notify me.
Shortly thereafter, Doreen Razo became a member and started posting on the discussion board topics on the Card. I didn’t know Doreen but assumed she was Eddie Razo’s wife. I was looking to contact Dennis Cooper to get information, but I was very hesitant to bother anybody close to Rene with this because things were still pretty uncertain regarding his condition. That’s when I sent out some info on an Illinois OTB fund raiser by accident and before I could recall the message it had already gone out. So I called Illinois Inter-Track to confirm and got Dave Zenner (Arlington Park’s director of media relations). After apologizing for my erroneous message, Dave said they were looking at my Get Well Card at that moment and I knew then that it had really taken off. I struck up a conversation about the situation and he told me that Doreen was acting as a family spokesperson. I called the hospital public relations department to confirm as well.
So when Doreen started posting updates on Rene’s medical condition, I started re-posting them on Recent News on the Card so they would be more visible, and created a Rene Douglas Medical Update on the blog for non-Facebook users as well. I also started sending out “Messages to All Members” with updates. (At one point I had replied to so many inquires that Facebook suspended my message center for a day because I had somehow kicked in some “Spam Guard” even though all of my messages were individual responses to individual questions.)
On Tuesday, May 26, Doreen Razo posted that the family was aware of the Card and messages. But a few days later at 5:45 am, Natalia Douglas (Rene’s wife) posted a thank you message and I knew that the messages and prayers were getting to Rene and the family. That was a milestone.
Looking back what have learned about this experience.
First, it is now obvious that there are a lot of people out there that care and want to help. This is not just illustrated by the number of members or posts on the card, but by the people who have sent me messages asking what they can do to help. There is a RDGWC member who is an exercise rider at Hollywood who posts updates in the racing office and in the jock’s room. There are people who have contacted me about wanting to volunteer time or organize fund raising events.
And there are people who still care enough to send messages and tell their friends even after more than two weeks after the accident.
People have posted messages about Rene winning races they remember, fans have posts of memories of Rene stopping to take pictures with them at the track, Rene helping others, the list goes on. Of the nearly 600 posts, I have not had to remove one post.
These members can be broken down into:
• People who click “join this group”
• People who care enough to type a message or send a prayer.
• People who look through the Recent News, Discussion Topics and The Brock Talk blog for information. (Judging by my up-tick in blog hits I assume they are also telling their non-Facebook friends where to get more info.)
• People who want to help financially.
• People who want to help any way they can.
What has been accomplished?
If it has offered any sense of comfort and support to Rene and his family I would say it has accomplished an awful lot.
I’m sure we have helped increase the awareness of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the individual fund raisers, but we have just hit the tip of the iceberg on what can be done in that arena. I’m hoping to continue my work to promote the PDJF and create awareness of the everyday dangers Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse jockeys endure on a daily basis.
I am working on formulating some way to keep this momentum going to support all of these riders and the other disabled jockeys.
The Paulick Report wrote about the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund in a “Good News Friday” article in the wake of the injury to Douglas. Those who haven’t read that article can click here to do so. Please consider a donation.
Previous Good News Friday subjects: Father Chris Clay, The Race for Education, Military Appreciation Day at Keeneland, Kentucky Oaks Pink Out for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Mary Lee-Butte and the Blue Grass Farms Chaplaincy, Mary Jo Pons and the Radio Reading Network, TV Ratings Are Up, Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club.
Do you know an individual or organization who you think we should consider for an upcoming “Good News Friday” feature? Then please e-mail email@example.com with the name of the individual or organization and a brief description of why you think they should be featured. Additionally, we’d like to thank Rob Whiteley and Liberation Farm for encouraging us to bring to light some of the industry’s positive stories and for sponsoring this exclusive Paulick Report feature.
Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report
Visit the Paulick Report for all the latest news throughout the racing world.
Sign up for our Email Flashes to get the latest news, analysis and commentary from Ray Paulick