Following Superstorm Sandy: Three lessons social lessons learned

Crazy few days, right? Like many news junkies I’ve been riveted by Hurricane Sandy.

When I think about how I’ve read my news over the last few days, it was 95% social media, primarily Twitter. Particularly last night. I know that Twitter has had its “moment” several times this year. The Social Olympics. The presidential debates with its record-breaking number of tweets. But last night — especially for a newsie and social media junkie — was yet another truly amazing Twitter moment. Close to 5 million tweets with the word Sandy in them went out yesterday. Wow. It was incredible following the posts of journalists – many of whom were in NYC without power – using Twitter to get out the news. Even more compelling were the pictures (at least the real ones) coming from the public. The pleas for help — like this one from a woman trying to find a generator for a friend on a ventilator — that went answered. The useful play-by-plays of power going out in several hospitals, cranes collapsing, walls falling down. If you were paying close attention to Twitter, you saw it there first.

There were also many pitfalls. In the rush to get out information, misinformation ran rampant at some points. Among the biggest whoops moments: The NYSE is under three-feet of water. Nope. It was wrong. So was the report from Reuters about 19 workers at a power plant being trapped. Everyone’s seen the fake Sandy photos. There were a lot of them. Important note: While most of this misinformation originated from Twitter, it was very quickly corrected by Twitter. You have to keep paying attention. UPDATE: Buzzfeed “unmasked” the source of some of the most egregious Sandy information, incl. the NYSE rumour.


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Quick Twitter tip: Mention, mention, mention

I’ve started obsessing over how stories, pictures, videos get picked up and explode on Twitter. How does something like #depressingsitcoms suddenly go viral and become a Top 10 Twitter trend in Canada and the U.S. today. offers some answers. I mentioned Topsy in yesterday’s post.

Let’s take #depressingsitcoms. Looks like it got its start on Oct. 13 with actor/comedian in L.A. named @johnfugalsang (69,000 followers). Not positive if he came up with it or got the popular tweet train rolling. The key is the message got into the hands of a key influencer on Twitter.


John kept using the #depressingsitcoms hashtag and soon other key influencers were picking it up and spreading the message.


By Thursday, this happens. Mentions of #depressingsitcoms goes from 2,110 to 28,896 in five days.

Now, some QMI examples.

On Monday, an Edmonton Sun story about a sick girl getting a visit from Justin Bieber goes up and gets picked up by the Toronto Sun. The Sun quickly notices the story is doing well and moves it to their home page. (Kudos) Someone in Biebs camp must see the story on the Sun’s website, likely through a Google alert. (Unfortunately, no tweet went out). Then this happens.


And this happens: (It becomes the Sun’s third most viewed piece of content this week. Huge)


In this case, we got lucky that Biebs peeps picked up the story. BUT this drives home the importance of taking a minute to look up the proper Twitter handle for a source, agency, organization, and yes, a celeb, and use it in our tweets. Get our content in the Twitter feeds of key influencers. Most of us are doing this, but we need to be consistent. It can make a big difference, increase the chances of our content being seen and drive more traffic to our sites.

Sometimes, you get a response, an RT, etc. Good for you and your news organization.


Adventures in live blogging

Some of you may have checked out my live blog yesterday. Turns out the Sun sent reporter, Maryam Shah, and photographer, Ernest Doroszuk, to the Trudeau event so we happily live blog tag-teamed.

Not everything was perfect. While I’ve live blogged and run chats plenty of times in the past, it’s been a while since I’ve been out in the field. I’m happy I did it and I’ll do it again. It helps me help you. Note: I recommend editors get out there and try it at least once.

What I learned from my live blogging experience yesterday: Always have a back-up plan. Thank goodness I did. I had banked on using the Art Gallery of Ontario’s free WiFi (highlighted on its website. did my research) to power up my iPad2/bluetooth keyboard combo (pictured below). I arrived at the AGO 15 mins early, thinking I’d have plenty of time to log on. Turns out WiFi works on the first floor of the gallery but not the third, where the Trudeau event was held. I tried, in vain, to tether my iPad to my iPhone4S (see YouTube video on how to do this). But my iPad couldn’t locate my dang phone, which was low on battery juice – because I thought I’d be using my iPad. Alas, yours truly found herself hunting like a crazy woman for an outlet to plug in my cell phone so I could live blog for the next 45 mins. Mission accomplished.

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Find your social media organization tool style

This is for the folks who haven’t discovered the wonders of social media organization tools and for those looking for alternatives to managing multiple accounts.

Most of us news types have several social media platforms to manage. Our newsroom-branded Twitter account, our personal Twitter account, Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn profiles, etc.

Find a tool that matches your style:

I haven’t found the perfect tool to manage them all, but here are a few. I’m going to break them down by one’s social personality. (Yes, I’m making this a thing)

For the Twitter addicts (like me): My recommendation is TweetDeck. This tool allows you to add multiple Twitter accounts, which is great. But best of all you can add columns that let you track @mentions, #hashtags, and (my personal favourite) my Twitter lists. You can add Facebook, too, but meh. This app enables you to schedule Tweets. ** I’d schedule with caution. That scheduled tweet about a celeb’s new movie might look silly if he just died and nobody remembered to delete that scheduled tweet. Note: Twitter owns Tweetdeck and has said it plans on putting its sole focus on this app (sorry Tweetie)


For the social business types: My recommendation is Hootsuite. It’s your one-stop shopping to house a lot of social apps. From here you can manage Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Google+. It limits you to one account per platform unless you have a pro account. If you want to team manage accounts, you also have to upgrade to pro ($). You could just share a password and log on at different times. This tool allows you to blast out the same message on different platforms at the same time. Use with caution. Facebook pages require fewer posts per day (5 to 12) compared with Twitter (multiple posts welcome). Hashtags don’t really fly on LinkedIn. It also allows you to schedule tweets. Hootsuite also owns another social organization tool, Seesmic.


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So many tech tools, so little time … Storify

I’m going to spend this short week looking at four tech tools that will (hopefully) save you time and/or enhance your product with little effort.

I’m going to start off with Storify , everyone’s favourite online reaction-gathering tool. I’m sure most of you have heard of Storify and many of you have used it. For that reason I’m going to break this post down into two sections: Beginners and advanced users.

Storify for beginners

What is Storify? Easy-to-use online tool that enables you to pull content from social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and turn it into a readable story.

When to use it? When people react online, Storify, Storify, Storify. Hot topics in your community, weather (always big), political reaction, major spot news, festivals/concerts, etc.

How to use it? You can create an account through Twitter, Facebook or email. Ensure you create one newsroom branded account and give access to employees who create content online. Once you’re in, search for and drag reader comments/posts/pics/videos to create a social story (see below). Take the Storify tour to show you how to use.


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To delete or not to delete that tweet

Few last things from the Online News Association conference:

Social media best practices:

The debate panel: Anthony De Rosa, Eric Carvin, Liz Heron, Niketa Patel All are social media editors at major media companies in the U.S.

The highlights:

  • To delete or not to delete. That’s still a question, apparently. Some of the panelists (De Rosa) said they never delete a tweet that contains inaccurate information , typos, etc. They just correct, point out errors in subsequent tweet. Others said (Heron) she does delete tweets that contain flagrant factual errors, misleading info to try and stem the tide of Twitter misinformation, rumours.
  • RTs and likes: They’re not endorsements! Everyone agreed. Feel free to follow whomever you want on Twitter and Like pages you need to on Facebook to do your job, cover your beat.
  • When to tweet: If you have a big exclusive, don’t tweet it until your news org is ready to put it out there. For other news, tweet it out. Main message: Things move so quickly “that’s it’s going to be reported one way or another.” (De Rosa) Don’t focus on speed at the expense of accuracy (Patel).
  • On journalists expressing an opinion on social networks: The general consensus was it’s OK to express your personality and offer perspective, particularly giving context to big stories, issues. You’re the expert on your beat and people will value what you have to say. If you express strong views you run the risk of hurting your credibility and your organization’s reputation.

Here’s a link to all sessions (with videos) for the really keen.


UGC: Rules of Engagement

More from the Online News Association conference. I attended a session on community engagement and the ethics of a community newsroom. Let’s break it down:

The panel: Jennifer Preston, NY Times, former social media editor; Amanda Michel, Open editor, Guardian, Fergus Bell, digital news gatherer AP.

Where to find people/social search: Topsy: Strong real-time social search tool. Check out, a people search engine that aggregates white-pages listings and public records/social media content. I call it spookio. I put in my info and a lot came up. Spooky.

And more … check out this slide from Jennifer Preston.



On how to treat your community from Amanda Michel: If you know you’re not going to use submitted content, reject quickly. 2) If you use a reader’s submitted pic, comment, etc., acknowledge their contributions. Send a quick email with link. 3) Test any assignment you give to your community before doling it out. 4) Be transparent about how you compiled user generated stories.

How to safeguard yourself: Verify, verify. See yesterday’s post from me.
Jennifer Preston also recommends taking a screen shot of everything you use. It will give you a record. Plus, we all know social pics, posts tend to come down quick, especially after breaking news.

On user content: Fergus from AP said typically only use outside content if they have permission. More than a legal question it’s an ethical one. People sharing amongst friends may not think about the material by media.

Preston advises understanding Twitter terms of service. You can use because you link back to them. See someone dead on Twitter, it’s a tip not a fact.

My take: The rules of engagement on this are still up for debate.

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