In March, I wrote about the phenomenon of people using Twitter during natural disasters to share updates and insights from the ground and let the world know that they are okay. It seems that more and more, we are turning to Twitter for the latest news and events around the world. As was recently announced by Twitter itself, Twitter is a place for information and news, not a social network.
We continue to hear the latest news via Twitter before traditional news outlets pick up the stories. Tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite allow us to follow the hashtags attached to these tweets to listen in on the entire conversation happening about that particular event. During the recent Discovery Building hostage situation, for example, the hashtags #discovery and #hostage were being used frequently, allowing people to monitor news as it unfolded.
Even public safety officials are using Twitter to stay on top of the latest developments. According to a story on CNN, “Heading off disaster, one tweet at a time,” Russ Johnson of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is trying to make information garnered from social media useful for first responders.
“Public safety officials are still trying to get their heads around social media. They are trying to catch up,” Johnson says. “What do you do when the social media knows more than you do?”
To help government officials, ESRI takes info from social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, and inputs the data onto maps for first responders.
“The data is really unstructured — when you wrap it around a map suddenly you have a micro and a macro view,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden social media is a really relevant piece of data that can increase situational awareness.”
We know that the public, first responders and journalists are using Twitter to learn about the latest breaking news happening in their area, but how can PR professionals use this to their advantage?
A lot of us use TweetDeck or HootSuite to search for our client’s names to monitor any conversations happening on Twitter, but we should also be looking at the latest trending topics and hashtags to follow breaking news as it happens. One way to stay on top of breaking news related to your clients is to set up searches on Twitter for general topic areas related to your client’s work. For example, set up a search for “mental health” and “health” in addition to your client’s name if their work is in the mental health field. While it may not catch all of the latest news, you may see a few tweets relating to a breaking story that you can start to follow.
We all know that one way to effectively pitch our client’s story to a journalist is to make a connection between what you have to say and a current topic or news event. This can instantly make your story more “newsworthy” and hopefully lead to the coverage that you and your client are looking for.
Right now there is no better source for breaking news then Twitter, and PR professionals should be using this to their advantage whenever possible. You should keep your tools for monitoring Twitter open all day and check it regularly because you never know when the perfect opportunity for your client will come up.