SWS Company Blog :: The Meteor and the Blackout: Using News Events to Spread Messages

The Meteor and the Blackout: Using News Events to Spread Messages

Posted by SWS Staff

In the last few weeks, we’ve had a few great examples of how news and popular events can be used as amplifiers for existing messages. We are huge proponents of having a social media plan and using that plan to post with specific purpose, but sometimes, flexibility can be even more valuable than discipline, and news events can give a powerful boost to your message if you use them right.

Example 1: The Blackout

The temporary blackout that caused a delay in the Super Bowl a few weekends ago was hardly an important news story in any real sense, but it was an opportunity for a few reasons. First, obviously, the size of the audience. But even more powerful, in a social media sense, was the interruption. The massive number of people that had tuned in to watch the game had nothing to do when it stopped – especially given the pretty poor attempts by the sportscasters to fill time – and so they went, en masse, to their smartphones and social networks.

Oreo got most of the credit for being the fastest and most flexible of the major brands when it came to reacting to this opportunity. Their “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” ad is going to be used as an example of agile management and social media advertising for a long time. But in the nonprofit sphere, one organization also reacted really well and appropriately to the blackout.

Even better, they followed it up with a longer campaign of tweets from people around Africa and the rest of the developing world, talking about the lack of electricity and basic services. It was a perfect translation of a seemingly trivial event into a real message.

Example 2: The Meteor

Today, a meteor hit the atmosphere over Russia, causing an enormous fireball and airburst that injured hundreds. This has the potential to be the most talked-about space event since the Curiosity landing, and provides a huge opportunity to educational and scientific organizations to capture the public’s sense of wonder and direct it into meaningful action. The several excellent videos taken of the explosion are a physics lesson (orbits, speed of light vs. sound, etc.) as well as a reminder of the importance of space research for regular people on Earth.

One of the sites that I help to manage is called City Science Club, a series of blogs highlighting scientific research in and around major U.S. cities. The Portland CSC site, which I manage and often write for, is one of the many projects I wish I could work on full time, but that has to fit into my busy contracting and writing schedule. However, today, we had a nice little victory on that site with a tweet of one of the early meteor videos:

Update: In a few hours, the tweet had gathered almost 600 retweets, over 140 favorites, and @pdxscience picked up a noticeable bump in followers. Considering that the goal of that site is purely to spread information about science, we’re really pleased with that.


Obviously, not every news event is appropriate to add into your social stream. But when you log into Twitter or Facebook or any other social network and see a trending topic that relates to your organization, think fast about whether and how to jump on it. Use it to teach a lesson that might otherwise not get a lot of public interest, or to remind a large audience that there’s something they can do to help. Be visual, with images or videos. Be clever, without ever sacrificing your message or your credibility for a cheap gag. If you do it right, this can be a powerful shot in the arm with large positive effects for a small investment of time.

As powerful as leveraging news stories can be, don’t let that be the end of your social and content strategy. See the next piece in this series for some guidelines on how to build and maintain content plans.

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A few examples of using news events to widen your social networks and bring new attention to your issues.

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