Tell me a single Facebook post can change the world and you are preaching to the choir.
As a media relations director for one of the world's largest humanitarian aid organizations, I regularly use social media to highlight World Vision
's relief and development work in nearly 100 countries and urge people to get involved.
Yet, even I had no idea the profound impact just a few Facebook posts can make until this past week.
A fatal car accident
On the evening of Mar. 15, 2013, my sister-in-law, Georgia Galey
, was involved in a fatal car accident
as she was on her way from San Antonio to Dallas to visit family. A teenager on his cell phone failed to see her car and turned in front of Georgia, colliding into her small car and unexpectedly forcing both vehicles to spin out of control.
Georgia, a 45-year old from Boerne, Texas, was airlifted to a nearby Fort Worth hospital. She suffered severe injuries including three broken limbs, a gash to her forehead, and a torn aorta. As Georgia lived beyond the initial three-hour and 24-hour critical zones, doctors and nurses grew increasingly hopeful that perhaps she would continue to defy the odds and become their next "miracle patient."
For four days, Georgia's closest friends, relatives, and colleagues clung to hope virtually as they anxiously awaited our Facebook posts for updates on her condition. Her family and friends relied heavily on social media to share the tragic ordeal and get updates on our rollercoaster emotional journey.
When I first posted on Facebook
last Saturday morning the initial announcement of Georgia's accident
, I did so just wanting to ask my own friends or family to pray for Georgia. I had no idea my posts and detailed updates would become our family's primary source for so many desperate for information.
The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of people posted Facebook comments, even strangers who had never met Georgia but who were deeply impacted by her story. Jamie from Las Cruces posted, “I have been following all your posts, and I have been praying!!!”
“Thanks for the updates,” shared Georgia's cousin Daniel. “It's the only way all of us in Kansas are staying in touch for right now.”
“Keep the updates coming,” wrote Kristin from Annapolis. “Sounds like she is a fighter.”
Although Georgia lived and worked in a small Texas town with a population not quite reaching 11,000, her tragic story seemed to sweep across the globe as many of my World Vision colleagues began reaching out from Australia, Canada, Syria, Somalia, Kenya, and the U.K.
“So sorry to read your news,” shared Jennie from Thailand. “Sending much love, light and prayers to you and your family at this time. Big hug,”
Her legacy continues to touch lives
Sadly, Georgia's injuries were too severe and she passed away on Tuesday, March 19, the same day as her twin brothers' birthday. On Saturday, as her family and I gather in Dallas to memorialize her passing, I can't help but reflect on how much Georgia's story impacted so many, especially considering most were getting updates exclusively through social media.
“I cried when I read the story and saw the pictures on Georgia's wreck,” posted Jeff from Tulsa.
"I never met her, but there was something about the situation that touched my heart,” messaged Theresa from Albuquerque. “I checked Facebook regularly looking for your updates hoping there would be good news. She was a beautiful woman, who obviously touched the lives of everyone she met (and even those she didn't!).”
Georgia did touch many, many lives and continues to do so even with her legacy. The day after her passing, Facebook followers continued to offer overwhelming support suggesting a charitable fund be set up in her honor. Although Georgia's family briefly considered a fund for the firefighters who had quickly extricated her from her vehicle and gave her a fighting chance at survival, her siblings ultimately settled on creating a fund in Georgia's name for her favorite non-profit, the Cibolo Nature Center, a nature conservatory in Boerne where she worked.
Georgia loved being outdoors, educating children, and walking the grounds with her loyal dog, Molly. Her colleagues say she was as much the face and heart of the Cibolo as anyone else. Immediately after Georgia's accident, the conservatory used the family's social media posts to simultaneously post updates on her condition and call for prayers on their official website
and Facebook page
, garnering thousands of visitors in just those first several days.
Next month, Georgia's family plans to host a second memorial service on the grounds of the Cibolo. A tree will be planted in her honor, symbolic of Georgia's love for the non-profit. Perhaps, the tree's eventual branches will also be symbolic of her widespread impact and legacy.
Social media can deeply affect us
Although I am an advocate for understanding the power of social media, I must admit that I had been growing somewhat skeptical that perhaps our society has become a bit disconnected through this evolving virtual world. I've wondered to myself at just how real or how deep my virtual relationships can be when I've never met many of my own Facebook friends or Twitter followers in-person. Yet, Georgia's tragic story has made me a believer that social media can truly touch us at our core.
The tears others and I cried were real. The emotions felt by my virtual friends were deeply and painfully heartfelt. I didn't need to meet or see Georgia's friends or relatives face-to-face to know we were all sharing the same shock, grief, and pain. Of course, grieving virtually does have its limitations. It's impossible to convey through words the impact Georgia had on me as I watched the life disappear from her eyes those final few seconds in her hospital room. I cannot post a real virtual hug or a warm embrace, nor can I come close to sharing those many wet tears streaming down our faces.
Yet, I did feel genuine comfort knowing we weren't alone this past week. The pain truly felt and shared even virtually by others actually lifted or lessened with each and every post on Georgia's Facebook page. Seeing posts offering prayers uplifted me. I was encouraged knowing my friends from afar cared so much, and I felt others sharing my sorrow knowing they too were deeply impacted by our tragic ordeal.
Social media can truly change the world. I know that, I've seen it, and I strategize posts for a living. Yet, I have gained a new level of respect for the virtual world and these evolving media. A single Facebook post is capable of creating real emotions and causing people to care, grieve and even love in ways my big-hearted, sister-in-law may not have ever even known. I am a better person for having known Georgia. I also have no doubt that those who only virtually came to know her this past week are forever changed and through social media the “branches” of her legacy will continue to reach out and touch so many more.
Mindy Mizell is the media relations director at World Vision. For her world in Africa on behalf of Word Vision, Mindy was the recipient of a PR Daily Digital PR and Social Media Award.