By John Foley, Jr., Chief Executive/Marketing Officer at Grow Socially
Just 140 characters—140 strikes on the keyboard by thousands of people in a few-hour span was the culmination of one of the biggest news stories of this generation. When Osama bin Laden was killed, Twitter, among other social media sites, became the catalyst for a national frenzy.
“Twitter says bin Laden’s death generated the highest sustained rate of tweets ever,” according to an NPR release. “From 10:45 p.m. on Sunday to 2:20 a.m. on Monday, users pecked out an average of 3,000 tweets per second, according to Twitter. The traffic peaked at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, minutes before the President’s televised briefing, with 5,106 tweets per second.”
“Twitter users are being credited with breaking the news,” said NPR, “thanks in part to a man in Abbottabad, Pakistan, who tweeted the details of the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s compound as they unfolded near his home (he was prompted by the sound of helicopters and gunfire but hadn’t known the reason for the commotion). Within moments, the man gained 14,000 followers.”
“If anyone isn’t a believer in Twitter as an amazingly powerful news vehicle, last night should convert you,” tweeted Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post’s political website, “The Fix,” the day after bin Laden’s death.
Also consider the recent tragedy in Joplin, Missouri. The tornado-torn town has been a hotbed for social media coverage. There have been videos uploaded to YouTube chronicling the destruction. And Flickr has seen an influx of photos from the natural disaster.
Facebook has also been a critical forum in Missouri. Jen Lee Reeves of KOMU radio wrote on MediaShift about the impact her station’s Facebook page has been having in the tornado’s wake. “My newsroom’s normally local-focused Facebook page quickly became a clearinghouse for updates about how mid-Missouri could help the tornado-ravaged community,” said Reeves. “Fans are using the page now to share news, photos, videos, information on relief efforts, and in general to connect with each other in a time of crisis.”
The tornadoes in Western Massachusetts also were chronicled in social media. Photos and videos were uploaded simultaneously as the area was hit with the unfamiliar and unforgiving weather.
Social media is tremendously successful when used as a reactive tool to breaking news stories. It has also become a consistent political podium, always open for announcements for anyone who feels like they have something to say. For example, Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for the 2012 Presidential race on Facebook and Twitter, and he also released a web video. Even more recently, Mitt Romney released a YouTube video explaining his intentions to run for President, one week after tweeting a desire to run again.
Social media’s legitimacy is skyrocketing. Internationally relevant political news has been broken by social media, and one can’t help but take notice.
The gravity of these stories is immense. We condense them into a Facebook status or a 140-character tweet. This does not diminish the importance of the events; rather it amplifies it. We have taken our social networks and made them the fastest possible avenue for our news.