Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blackouts, Twitter, and Social Media

If you are involved with search engine optimization, or you actively use social media for online marketing, then you are constantly getting exposed to new and different online resources, or trying to figure out different ways to use them to make money or to keep your business moving forward. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to show us just how useful these tools can be in a totally different situation.

A few weeks ago, the dramatic event for me was a blackout. I was at home late on a weekend night, and the lights suddenly went out. I looked out the window and saw a nearby neighborhood was lit up, so I figured it was a localized blackout. I also figured it wasn't going to be a big local news story, so listening to the radio probably wouldn't give me much information.

The TV and computer were out, but my phone, which had Internet access, was up and running. I suddenly had a wild thought about how to get information on my neighborhood blackout. I'd used Twitter, specifically the search function in Twitter at search.twitter.com, and did a search on my neighborhood's name.

What I found surprised me. There were quite a few people who were using their Blackberrys and iPhones to send Twitter messages to their friends. It was surprising because the area affected by the blackout had about 10,000 residents, but most would not have even had access to the Internet, and only some of them would have had both Twitter accounts and a desire to send out messages.

The number of people using Twitter in my neighborhood was surprising, but the content of the messages were not so surprising. Most of the messages were not very useful, with things like jokes, rumor mongering, and wild speculation about the blackout. In spite of the useless noise, I did find several useful pieces of information, things like links to the power company's web site and Twitter account. Links to the Twitter accounts of local television news organizations, and updates on what blocks were getting back their lights.

So what should you take away from this little story? First, if someone in your family is using Twitter, don't get in their way. If you are thinking about using Twitter, go ahead and check it out. You may actually like it. The service may come in handy one day in ways you can't imagine. Whether you use it or not, check out search.twitter.com. Search it like you would a search engine and look for things that interest you. I've found it very useful for breaking news items. For details, check out a post of mine from another blog that describes how I use Twitter to support my web site AirSafe.com.

Because of this experience, I found out several things I didn't know, such as the fact that local news organizations use Twitter, as does the local electric utility. Next time there's a problem with my electricity, I'll know where to go.

For even more insights into the kinds of social media resources are out there for you to use, check out my list of 10 free social media tools you should try.

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