Fortunately the storm that brought The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore ( @jimcantore on twitter) to Memphis blew through with mainly straight line winds and thankfully no tornadoes. Bad weather can strike in Memphis–sometimes without warning–and it’s always good to have a plan according to one of our favorite weather sources, Erik Proseus (aka @memphisweather1 on Twitter) who posts at MemphisWeather.net and tweets his blog. An important part of having a plan is communication and how information is shared. Twitter is a great way to engage and share “real time” information. Yesterday, approximately 7 hours before the storm was to hit, I received a “tweet” from a few Memphis folks on Twitter that they’d like to promote the hashtag (#) on Twitter for the storm as #memstorm. What a great idea and something I have been talking to clients about in PR strategies and crisis communications–the importance of using hashtags to search specific information and promote a certain issue or event–like last night’s storm.
Rachel Smith and Aaron Prather ( @rachgsmith & @amprather on Twitter)–two Memphis Tweeters who I want to meet soon–suggested using this hashtag at an “Ignite Memphis II” presentation at Launch Memphis a few nights ago. Here’s what they had to say: “The great thing about Twitter is that it gives you a platform for the exchange of ideas and information. However, it can also be very noisy which makes it hard when you are looking for specific data–like going into a bookstore and seeing a bunch of books but not in any grouping. For Twitter, hashtags allow these groupings to happen so we can cut through the noise and get the specific data we want and can add to it,” says Aaron. “What made #memstorm so powerful was that you could find the data and also add to the conversation making it even richer,” he said.
This is the power of Twitter in a crisis. If the community will accept 1 single hashtag to use, Twitter will automatically put all tweets using that exact tag into one stream. Last night #memstorm literally took the Memphis community by storm. With over 681 tweets last night, the statistics are there to prove this is a powerful way to communicate. Thanks to the news media and to @MLGW who also joined using the tag which was important as getting immediate, reliable news from all sources is very important in a crisis where safety (not credit) is first. Some tweets read: “the information in this stream is better than some of the news sites.” As a PR person, I can tell you this is powerful stuff! Even Jim Cantore himself didn’t have this kind of Twitter power! But I guess he has real star power so he doesn’t need it. Imagine if he had joined #memstorm (that would have been cool and smart of him by the way).
Rachel Smith ( @rachgsmith on Twitter) has this observation: “The essential purpose of the hashtag is one most neglected to realize: to create one source of information for all aspects of a story or event. Without this unity, there is no value.” She said that at the Ignite Memphis II meeting, Aaron suggested Memphis use these tags for future events and I agree! #memtraffic (all traffic alerts) and #memstorm (for all weather alerts).
Aaron and Rachel sent me a sampling of the stats from #memstorm on Twitter. Using only 50 of the 675 tweets, 31,614 people were reached with 205,410 impressions. WOW! Powerful numbers and important information.
Rachel and Aaron believe that getting the community (government, media, civic, etc) behind this idea would help expand information shared during important events. Without a unified single stream, these tweets just look like a bookstore without any categories or organization.
Another value to a single stream is that people were reporting in real time what was happening in their area and neighborhoods. Weather watchers were spotting tornadoes and tweeting where they were sometimes before the news could report it. People were tweeting when the sirens stopped faster than the news reported it. I am sure the news channels will be reviewing how to integrate and use Twitter and a hashtags during the next storm event which could be as soon as Sunday night. My advice to them would be to embrace this idea and to watch the tweets live to verify and compare information. We’ll be using #memstorm again of course. This is a good way for any community to become educated and understand the power or Twitter in a real crisis. If all power goes out, Twitter works when your TV doesn’t and we need to be ready to use it. (Make sure your phones and iPads are charged)
Thanks to everyone who got involved as I often say more heads and tweets are better than one! When Aaron and Rachel tweeted to me that #memstorm would be used, I sent a media alert to our weather media and they joined the conversation. For more information on how it went, go to Twitter and type #memstorm in the search bar and you can see the tweets from last night and today (they are still coming in).
** #memstorm photo courtesy of @BrennanSomers (we love this picture!)