Bag Men & Rock Stars; Lessons From a Bad Week

We’re still thinking about the terrible events last week.

The nation was riveted to social media, the Internet and television, first watching the bombing of the Boston Marathon, followed by a massive industrial explosion in a West Texas fertilizer plant and then a search for the suspects of the Boston Marathon.

I do not recall being so riveted to media since the slow chase of O J Simpson in 1994.

How does this impact small business?

What lessons can you learn for your small business, if any?

The Awl does a good job, I think, of putting these events into perspective. In a post by Choire Sicha, the social media efforts of several news organizations, represented by their ‘social media editors’, is dissected by examining Reuters ‘Deputy Social Media Editor’, Matthew Keys.

Keys, who has tweeted this morning that he has been terminated by Reuters, reported to his followers updates from his bedroom in San Francisco on the chase in Boston. At one point he admits he is getting his information off the television.

Sicha quickly gets to the nub of the question about social media. “Companies have taken on social media editors, lots of them young-ish, lots of them ‘digital natives’,” Sicha notes. “Decision-makers don’t know where to start with social media. And lots don’t know where their social media editors should stop and start in their work.”

Sicha gives an example: Tumblr. It was “a big vogue” that “literally didn’t do a single thing.”

There are a lot of digital natives out there. They do not understand your business. It is not enough to hear about the many ways of putting a message out there. Your business needs to know which is effective selling your message. You need a simple plan. You don’t make money Tweeting. You make money selling homes, hamburgers and hockey pucks.

Let’s go back to the just unemployed Mr. Keys for a moment. Social media last week failed to get the message across. Keys was just part of the whale that failed.

Mr Keys was indicted on federal charges in March that he conspired with members of the hacker group “Anonymous” to hack into and alter the Tribune Co. website.

Mr. Keys, it should be noted, was some sort of social media maven. He was probably considered a real catch by Reuters.

Keys is 26.

There are in this field many people who are very good at promoting themselves. I refer to them as ‘rock stars.’ They are the ones attending the best parties at SXSW, getting invited to address conferences, and being relied on for quotes. They are rock stars if they do not have a history of success somewhere. Anywhere.

Communications During Emergencies

As you know, Next Century is publisher of The Welles Park Bulldog, a online local news publisher.

We’ve been monitoring the situation in Boston all week. We’ve also been watching as our neighborhood was pummeled by a storm that dumped an estimated 5” of water.

Some of the worst of media and some of the best has come from the reporting.

Like Boston, local police were restricting movement in our neighborhood. Flooded streets and viaducts meant that vehicles were unlikely to cross some areas of water. Residents in our neighborhood had to be rescued by boat from rising water. North Park University was closed.

This morning I’m finding myself glued to the radio, listening to updates on the manhunt in Boston. The day has dragged and nothing has been done.

Our local Patch asked residents to share locations to avoid. However the offer seems to have fallen flat, there are no shares evident on the site this morning. And, a search for social media news on Twitter showed that Patch was the most active user of the social media site, putting news out about the flood.

It was a good effort by Patch. We should have done something similar.

How should you react to emergencies on social media?

I hope our example on The Dog is a good case study. We shared photos. We shared what news we saw on other sites.

We shared a video of a sewer opening shooting water at Ravenswood Ave. and Lawrence. We shared some photos from our friend and photojournalist Peter Bella of the water nearly overflowing the bridges in Albany Park. And we shared a photo from North Park University, also of the overflowing river nearly overflowing a pedestrian bridge on the campus.

When we received news we shared it.

People are losing their property. They are being forced from their home. This is not a time for levity about their situation.

There is a saying about Twitter. It is indispensable in the first 15 minutes of a tragedy and useless after that.

News people following Twitter about the Boston situation noted it was worth monitoring last night, but that as people flooded the site (sorry for that pun), it lost coherence. Finally, local police asked the media and the public to stop broadcasting police activity on Twitter, fearing for the lives of public safety officials.

I’m not in Boston, so I’ll limit my comments to Ravenswood’s flood.

Locally, what would have been good to know? Hardware stores could have been broadcasting the availability of pumping and cleaning supplies. That is commercial, but under the circumstances it is also required information for clean-up.

The city could be discussing how to dispose of damaged goods. Health officials could be discussing how to clean the basement of sewerage. Schools could note whether they were open or not. Insurance agents could use the opportunity to discuss what to do after clean-up.