Ask yourself for a moment how you first heard about the plane which went down in the Hudson River. If you’re like me, you first heard about the story on Twitter. Within minutes of the crash, Twitter suddenly came to life not only with news of the crash but with reports from eye witnesses and even the amazing photo above taken by a passenger on one of the first ferries to arrive on the scene.
While citizen journalism has been growing for a while, Twitter’s ability to rapidly spread information by “retweeting” information took citizen journalism to a new level. Not only that, the speed of the news cycle was absolutely amazing. Within 15 minutes of the story breaking, word was spreading around Twitter that miraculously, everyone was off the plane and survived.
It was also interesting to watch the traditional news outlets on Twitter and how they handled the event. At the height of the story, I received a “tweet” from the Washington Post asking followers if they wanted them to report the story on Twitter admitting that they would be doing little more than reporting news that was being broadcast on the AP wire.
Think about that for a moment. As a big story is breaking, one of the country’s major news outlets stops and asks it’s readers how they want them to report the story. This has to be a first and to be honest, I don’t know what to think about it. I started to send a response saying, “DON”T ASK! REPORT!”…but I let it go.
It is also interesting to note that I don’t recall seeing anything from the New York Times (who I also follow) until after I had heard that everyone was safe. One thing however, both news services were the first I saw to post contact information for both eyewitnesses and passenger lists. As opposed to just reporting the news, both were also serving as resources in a time of emergency.
How does this apply to business?
Now, let’s take the lessons learned from this to a business level. As demonstrated, Twitter has the ability to spread information very, very fast. There are enough users and if it is interesting enough, the information will get passed around. This can be both a good and bad thing. In a crises situation, Twitter can be a very effective way to curtail the spread of false information and stay informed about what is being said.
A company actively listening on Twitter for comments about their company or product can instantly join the discussion. If the company’s Twitter account is active and has a strong following, they can instantly tell followers about what is going on from their end or reach out and offer help to users who may be spreading negative information. (Tweetdeck is an excellent tool for actively monitoring key words in Twitter)
From a basic customer support perspective, Twitter is becoming a way for companies to communicate directly with customers. For a good example, check out Comcast. Comcast has a dedicated customer support representative working solely on Twitter.
Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the US Airways plane crash. From a breaking news perspective, it was amazing to see the “real time” aspect of this story coming from many different perspectives. From a business perspective, it reminds us that the conversation will go on with or without us. The question becomes, how will we participate.