Late last night, an Air France plane (AF 447) with 228 passengers onboard is presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. This tragic incident highlights the benefits that social media adds to traditional media in times of crisis.
I didn’t learn about this from a news website, but rather saw it on my Twitter feed, which points out a fundamental difference in the way that some people receive their news. I don’t need to check news sites every morning, because if something important happens (such as the Air France tragedy) I find out via all the conversations that I subscribe to. Instead of going to one source for the news, and hoping they have everything I want to know, I can just let the news come to me, via people that I have chosen to follow.
Instead of getting uppity and challenging the merits of social media, the best way for traditional media to hold their position as a news authority is to enter the conversation. Their credibility is already established, and they already have a fan base. All that needs to be done is to “give the people what they want,” but also focus on where/how they want to receive it. For breaking news, don’t deliver a paper to my front door, because I don’t have time to sift through information. Broadcast your news where discussions are taking place. If you are really on top of your game, maybe even host discussions on your site. That way you can see what people like to talk about, and you will gain loyal fans that come to your site to regularly interact.
What are the downsides for using social media in times of crisis? You can run into sites that aren’t very informative, or are even just plain wrong. The immediacy and lack of regulation online allows just about anybody to write an “article” and have it published in a matter of minutes. This is what makes it easier to pass along important news, but also easier to pass along news that is wrong.