Putting social media to use in and after a crisis

The analysis reports are starting to come in on the Pacific Northwest’s media coverage of the Lakewood police executions and, from what I’ve read and from what I experienced, my fellow journalists set the bar high. What I found interesting is that this tragedy caused many of the Puget Sound’s more traditional news organizations to wade deeper – much deeper in some cases – into social media.

Many of the area’s news orgs have been using the ‘core’ social media tools (Facebook, Twitter) for a year or more. Some have even won awards for their early adoption of the tools. Some local media seems to have been born with iPhones in their hands and Twitter accounts. For them, this is old hat – Twitter’s real-time updates are part of their regular routine. But this was not so at the staid Seattle Times.

TechNewsWorld has a great wrap-up of the Times’ experiments with Twitter during the 42-hour manhunt.What struck me, though, was the Times’ almost dismissal of Facebook in their social media planning. It makes sense in the context of the Lakewood executions – the story was all about speed and Facebook isn’t built as a real-time news service. But it clarified for me the purpose and benefit of each of the dominant social media tools today.

Twitter, obviously, is the king of real-time. It is the 21st century Teletype. Twitter’s ability to push content from one to many in an instant, and its ecosystem of diverse client applications on all available platforms, has created a real-time news juggernaut. News organizations that ignore Twitter do so at their own peril.

The tools are free and simple: anything from the most basic SMS-capable phone can participate. Twitter’s API and the rich collection of Twitter client applications means that Twitter isn’t just a single delivery mechanism for your content. It’s a path to an endless variety of delivery mechanisms. Your followers can use Twitter to receive updates on their computer, mobile phone, smartphone, handheld computer, netbook, television, in-car navigation system, etc. It is a platform for delivering real-time content (albeit in very small, 140-character units).

Facebook, on the other hand, is all about engaging with ‘fans’ of your content or brand. The Seattle Times didn’t emphasize Facebook during the Lakewood shooting story because it didn’t make sense in the heat of the story. Now, however, as the community tries to understand the events and analyze what has happened to us, Facebook might just be the right tool. Facebook’s ability to collect people around a topic and get them to interact on that topic is unparalleled.

The Times, and other Puget Sound news orgs should be using it to engage readers – ask questions and solicit feedback, collect their accounts, or share images. The best part about Facebook is that a news org doesn’t have to host this discussion either on their own site or on Facebook because Facebook’s users are already doing it. News orgs need only participate to get value out of the platform.