By: Jenn Fusion
I’m not going to mince words here: sitting at my family dinner, I was utterly captivated by Hurricane Irene! “This is going to be the worst storm to hit the Atlantic seaboard in 50 years,” newscasters were telling me. Even though all I could see was an amazing array of fancy graphics, confusing charts that showed the hurricane spinning off in all different devastating directions, several amateur cell phone camera videos of swaying trees, and a few newscasters in neon slickers getting pelted by rain drops… you had this ominous sense that: It was coming!
Now that Hurricane Irene has passed as nothing more than a lowly Category 1, we can look back at the “wreckage” of over-hyped media coverage. The Daily Beast posits an interesting thought that perhaps, seeing as it’s “election season” and all, it’s every governor and mayor for himself. They’re all getting in on the action so they don’t look like the next Michael Brown or Ray Nagin — caught with their pants down.
In the social media world, there was much to celebrate, I guess you could say. It’s the first major hurricane to hit the US since the advent of Twitter, for instance. The National Hurricane Center was all over that like a hobo on a ham sandwich. For another, people died… even if the first one to go was entirely non-weather-related with a heart attack. There were evacuations — and what better way to broadcast what to do and where to go than with social media, a tool that most every American uses daily? In a sense, you can think of it as an exercise in using social media for emergency response purposes. It was a trial-run for the Big Kahuna… whatever and whenever that may be. One thing is clear — Hurricane Irene was not Armageddon. (Hey, I’m still let down by the big prophetical “end of the world” on May 21st. Thanks for filling that void, social media.)
In the end, there were over a million tweets about Hurricane Irene. In Maryland, the Talbot Department of Emergency Services’ Twitter account grew from 900 followers to 2,200 followers in a matter of days as people searched for late-breaking information on road closures, power outages, new warnings, damage reports, and weather conditions. News websites like The Star Democrat saw a 37 percent rise in traffic on Saturday, with page views increasing 88 percent. In other words: hurricanes are big business for the media.
But that’s not all — you may be wondering, “Where does small business online marketing come in?” Well, it turns out, even individuals have capitalized off the hurricane hype. Take, for example, Irene Tien, a product strategist for Huge Inc. She registered the @Irene Twitter address back in 2006, long before the pandemonium ensued. She found that people just instinctively started following her as soon as word of the hurricane hit. She had about 600 followers… which, to date, has grown to more than 10,000!
Irene decided to use her site as a forum for weather news, writing as if she were Hurricane Irene herself. On August 28th, she tweeted: Leaving US, starting to lose my strength. Canada, please stay safe while I’m passing through. #Irene http://t.co/XpZP0jw. “We wanted to be a central resource for updates and warnings about the hurricane,” she explained to Ad Age. She even offered to let FEMA use her account, should the storm spiral out of control.
In devising tone, Irene explained, “She [the hurricane] had to be a self-aware disaster who understood her potential to cause devastation and that she had no control over her actions.” She kept her messages lighthearted and funny to maintain an audience. There’s no telling how many followers she’ll maintain now that she’s gone back to discussing branding and small business online marketing… an important, but far less critical, topic.