Marketing and Communications Executive and Forbes Communications Council Member
Originally posted on Forbes.com.
When I finally watched the movie "Sully," it took me back to my small NYC agency office on that cold day in 2009. While I’m a sucker for Tom Hanks and the movie rightfully focused on the incident at hand, I felt that it missed one of the largest social milestones of the last decade. This was one of the first instances of social journalism. Twitter broke the story with pictures, and live tweets from others (including myself) were used as citations on mainstream media for the first time.
Being a young PR pro, we were just learning about social. Sure, I had signed up for this thing called Twitter, followed top journalists and made an excuse to enjoy a few drinks at one of Peter Shankman’s happy hours (now known as HARO), but I didn't yet realize the power of social platforms and social journalism. Just the day before I had been disciplined by my boss; if I brought up the word "Twitter" again at a strategy meeting at work, I would be pulled off of the account, if not worse.
On January 15, 2009, I had just come back from a lunch meeting when I heard a huge splash while checking email and Twitter. I happened to see a few tweets from fellow New Yorkers mentioning that they had just seen a plane crash near my office on the West Side. I ran to the window and saw United 1549 landing on the Hudson. I grabbed my coat and phone, and ran to the scene.
I chased the plane downtown with the rest of the crowd, tweeting pictures and an account of the events while trying to call rescue. There were no cameras and no journalists -- just regular people trying to see if there was anything we could do while sharing our experience. Enter social journalism.
Upon my return to the office, my view of social media and its power would change forever. Apparently, a few of my tweets had been published on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, ABC and NBC. My Twitter follower count had increased from 200 to 3,500 in an hour, and I had messages from every major media outlet asking for interviews. My publicist background kicked in and I declined all interviews but allowed credit for tweets, which at the time was an unknown thing.
Back in 2009, social media for brands was almost non-existent. Social media’s perception was that it was a waste of time and wouldn’t last. After the stellar financial year of 2008, nobody had the budget for a new media stream. Facebook brand pages were just coming out, Twitter was a cool "insider" thing that most people were trying to figure out, and I still had a Friendster account. Budgets were being slashed, people being laid off, brand managers being consolidated.
While much has changed since then, here are some takeaways I gained from this experience with regard to leveraging the power of social journalism for your brand: