The Power of Social Media When Tragedy Strikes

When fear struck Boston on Monday, April 15th, word spread like wild fire across social media. The Boston Globe was quick to react to the explosions via Twitter, receiving almost 10,000 re-tweets in a matter of minutes. The news spread quickly to news outlets and other active social users, and soon enough, the news was known nation-wide. Many took to social media to not only offer condolences and receive timely updates, but also to locate friends and family that were in or around the marathon that afternoon.

The Google person finder, which was initially built for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, was one of the most helpful tools for tracking runners and bystanders and for also posting any information that was had about someone who was missing. Facebook was also a big help for locating people. According to The New York Times, Jeff Bauman was able to track down his son by an image that was posted to Facebook of his son being wheeled to an ambulance. Jeff was able to track him down after calling multiple Boston area hospitals. It’s times like this where we praise social media for being our guide to updates and answers.

According to Topsy, a Twitter analytics company, at about 4:30 p.m., there were more than 700,000 mentions on Twitter of the words “Boston Marathon” while Twitter mentions of “Boston” increased by 20,000%. A recently launched app, Vine, was also one of the first to display a quick six-second loop of the explosion. The Boston police are also using their Twitter account for updates. CNN just announced a suspect being arrested, while the Boston police were quick to respond that there has not been any arrest. With quick reactions like this, it’s imperative to note the importance of social media and how it’s typically first on the scene and the quickest place to release timely news and details.

For big brands and social voices, this is just another reason to make sure that a “crisis strategy” is implemented in your social media plan. When tragedy strikes, it’s important to be aware of timely tweets and posts in order to not stand out like a sore thumb. This is typically a problem when brands schedule posts too far in advance. By releasing untimely information during a time like this, a brand will look “un-human” and “robot-like” to the audience, resulting in extreme negative backlash.

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As a result of advanced scheduling, an accidental slip could happen. Runner’s World was on the scene and had accidentally sent out a scheduled tweet, but it was pulled immediately followed by this response.

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The best etiquette guidelines to follow in a situation such as this are: be sensitive, delay posting any promotional or irrelevant tweets, and join the conversation if you can provide any helpful details (especially if you’re local).

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With all this being said, it’s apparent that social media has created its own form of reporting, and is continuously on the rise. People are always looking to social media for answers, which is why it’s important to understand the many roles that social media plays.

If you’re looking for ways to volunteer and help, near or far, follow the hashtag #BostonHelp on Twitter or check out this list of ways to get involved. Our deepest sympathies go out to those affected by the events at the Boston Marathon.

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