My Earthquake Encounter with Twitter

The advent of Twitter never appealed to me, as I have always been a complete addict of Facebook. To be honest, it was (wrongly) advertised to me as “just Facebook statuses” and “pretty much pointless.” I believed them. I truly did not need a Twitter to be interconnected with my friends. But then a little thing called peer pressure happened. Because my friends all started getting Twitter accounts, naturally I did not want to feel left out. I wanted to be trendy and up-to-date on all the latest fads and fashions of my generation. I caved in and made an account, but I was still not convinced that Twitter had any sort of meaning for my social life. I was so unenthusiastic about it at first that my first tweet was a simple phrase: “first tweet.” Original, right?

BOOM. The East Coast Earthquake of 2011 hits on August 23rd. What was a scary and intense moment for most people turned out to be a very calm moment for me. Two of my co-workers and I were outside, running a few errands for work. Suddenly, my sister texted me saying there was an earthquake in State College, PA. I had no idea what she was talking about. We got back to the office, and heard the stories from our other colleagues who had felt it. No one had heard much news about the scope of the quake.

I decided to log onto Twitter to see what my friends’ experiences had been. For some reason, I noticed something that I hadn’t really paid much attention to on Twitter before the quake. In the “Trends” section on the lower right side of my account, “earthquake”, “a 5.9”, and “Virginia” were showing up. For anyone who does not have a Twitter account, trends are essentially the most common phrases or words that Twitter users are posting in their tweets. Twitter users can customize their accounts to show worldwide trends, or just the trends in one specific country. When a Twitter user clicks on a trend, it brings up a page that identifies all of the people using that phrase in their tweets (granted their tweets are not protected). I clicked on “#earthquake”, and found that a variety of news organizations had used this hashtag in their posting. In that same posting, many of them also included an article detailing what exactly happened.

And that is how I got all of the information of what happened. I learned where the epicenter was, how large the earthquake was, the damages (minimal, of course), and the area which it affected. This was how I got my news.  Just through a scanning of the Trends on a social media site. I was amazed at the fact that I could learn so much about what happened without even having to turn on the TV.

Identifying Public Opinion and Key Publics

As a public relations student and future professional, I find the implications of the “Trends” feature on Twitter astounding.  For one thing, it can easily help a PR professional identify public opinion. PR professionals need to be able to identify public opinion on certain issues to better help their organization or client adapt to the public. The “Trends” feature allows PR professionals to see what people are talking about in a quick and efficient manner. This can be very beneficial to a PR professional because by clicking on the trend, they can see who is tweeting about an issue. The tweets that show up may disclose information that includes an opinion about the issue at hand. This can identify public opinion, or can help you to indentify a specific public that your organization wants you to target (based on their thoughts that have been tweeted). The beauty of the “Trends” feature is that although it identifies a commonly used phrase or word, there could be a multitude of different opinions surrounding the issue that the trend refers to. A PR professional could find a variety of different opinions regarding a certain issue by scanning just one trend page.

Opinion Leaders

People who have specific opinions on an issue may serve as opinion leaders, who will, in turn, influence their followers. Since many of the followers of the opinion leaders may not have Twitter accounts, it is crucial that a PR professional reach out to the opinion leaders. Once this is done, the opinion leaders can influence their followers. Now, this is not to say that all the followers will not have Twitters; in this case, PR professionals can identify specific followers and reach out to them directly. This is also not to say that every opinion leader has a Twitter account. But many people who post strong opinions about an issue will want their followers on Twitter to see this and be influenced by the content.

What started out as a pretty pointless forum that I used to post things about my day-to-day life became a tool that I will use as professional in the public relations field. The use of social media in the workplace environment is very interesting and becoming very important. Even though I didn’t feel the earthquake itself, I was rocked by the amazing qualities and usefulness that Twitter has for the professional world.

Written by Bobby Schrader.

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