Just thinking out loud here…
I came to a realization yesterday that I had become predictable: Western Washington had a windstorm and my first thought was, “Oh, I should ask people to send us their photos.” I think just about every other newsbrand in the region had the same reaction.
But then it struck me: Between the Seattle TV stations and the Times and pi, how many people are really going to opt for PNWLocalNews instead? That’s not some defeatist attitude talking, it’s just reality. I work for a smaller newsbrand so I have to think like one; often that means thinking, What can we do that no one else is doing? So I posted this to Twitter:
Our newsrooms were obviously already covering the storm. And I had asked for photo submissions because they help tell a story. But I figured there had to be people out there living the story who were thinking, “Yeah, great, a tree that broke in half. But I can look out my window and see that and I’ve got an online test in 40 minutes, so where can I find a power outlet and free WiFi?”
Essentially, I was trying to flip the information flow around (again), by asking, “What do you need?” and hyperfocus it down to an individual level. To me, that’s what social media is anyway: connecting one-to-one to help each other. If even just one person @ replied me and asked about where to find a place with power and free WiFi, that’s one person helped (and I’m betting a few more people would’ve been interested in the information anyway).
I can’t really say my strategy was insanely effective—I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to Twitter or Facebook yesterday and I didn’t get any replies back—but I would like to keep trying it and putting more effort into it to see what happens next time. Yes, I could be deluged with way too many calls for help and yes, photos of blown-down trees are probably way more popular. But if we could supplement the “Send us your shocking photos” request with “By the same token, what do you need from us?” I think we could end up serving our communities a whole lot better.