social media natural disasters best practices storm #debbyFor those that may not be aware there is a tropical storm hitting the South in  the USA. Tropical storm Debby (#Debby on Twitter) decided to hang out near Florida starting this past weekend. She has brought with her massive amounts of rain and tornados. Practically the entire state of Florida (where I live) has been under Tornado watch or Tropical Storm warning since Sunday.

Our home has water seeping thru carpet in two rooms and an end to the rain is not on the horizon in the near future.

The purpose of this post is not to share with you our rain stories but to share some discoveries I made during the past 48 hours regarding social media and the businesses who are and are not part of the #Debby conversation.

When the storm hit the first place I turned was Twitter. Immediately I hopped on to the hashtag #Debby which to my knowledge is the #1 hashtag for the storm.

Below is a quick summary of my findings over the past 48 hours based on data provided by @Hashtracking reports as well as some tips for businesses wanting to engage in and help real people authentically during and after natural disasters.

Key Findings:

1. There were clear leaders who were ready to engage and offer real value.

2. The early birds ready to engage and help earned themselves an immediate leadership position and quickly became the “go to” source for information and support. 

  • The first business that caught my attention was our local Bay News 9. They are a local news channel only on BrightHouse, a provider of home cable, internet and TV services.
  • Why did they catch my attention?
    • They were part of the conversation in a real and helpful way.
    • They have been providing timely updates since Sunday that are accurate, succinct and relevant to the information needed. They hit on all the aspects of good marketing, communication and social media engagement I often “teach & preach” about.
    • TheirKystrom 9 technology quickly became my “go to” source for where the storm was travelling.
  • As you can see from the report from @Hashtracking below, Bay News 9 was not only the most popular (most mentioned & retweeted Twitter handle) but they even beat out CNN Breaking News Twitter handle! What's most inspiring about this is that Bay News 9 @BN9 sports 17k Twitter followers compared to CNN @CNNBRK at 7.9 million!
  • Obviously there is some benefit to Bay News 9 for being local in Florida.  However, it is clear they had little real local competition ready to engage, help and take a lead in doing such via social media.

2. There was a 2nd wave of businesses and media who joined the conversation.

  • Within 6-12 hours more businesses and media started to join the conversation. I noticed some news channels started to join after 5 am local time Monday morning.
  • @FEMA was a part of conversation though not sending a ton of tweets their information was helpful and informative for the most part. I thought their content could have been increased in both frequency and depth.
  • The @Weatherchannel started to engage and quickly became part of conversation late Sunday to Monday.
  • Local radio station 93.3 made the top 20 list.
  • Other local news channels such as WFLA and ABC Action News engaged and offered good value. However, in my opinion Bay News 9 had already earned & won the hearts of those engaged in the conversation and leveraging their information to help educate others.
  • The Orlando Sentinel @OrlandoSentinal was quick to jump on the conversation in a good way as soon as the storm was heading to Orlando. You can see in the Hashtracking report they made it to the top 20 and quickly beat out the local Tampa media (other than BayNews 9) even though the impact of the approaching storm first hit the Tampa Bay region.
  • Very few small local businesses started to engage by Sunday evening, early Monday.

3. Although there are many businesses profiting from natural disasters such as hurricanes, there are very few ready to help via social media.

  • There was a clear absence in traditional business product and service providers.
  • Although Tampa gets listed in many top 10 & 20 lists for most social savvy cities it is obvious our local businesses are not as social savvy as we may wish to think.
  • Some of the leaders I would have hoped to see at minimum include the following:
    • Hurricane safety & preparedness product and services companies (Home DepotLowes, hurricane window shutter providers etc.)
    • Disaster Restoration companies
    • Insurance Companies
  • Local and national businesses that profit from the safety preparation and clean-up for natural disasters could have easily been part of the conversation by providing relevant content. They could have provided safety precautions, what to do when you have seeping water on floor as I do, who to call for help and the list goes on.
  • I had only two business reach out to me to offer help for our house that is slowly flooding with water. One came from Twitter and the other from my personal page on Facebook.

4. Conversation trumped photos and videos. 

  • Based on the report provided by only 9.58% of tweets contained a photo or video.  Only 34.23% contained a link. Note, this report includes only most recent tweets from 6/25/12 8:00 pm- 6/26/12 at 2:00 am.
  • Different than what we often see with social media viral shares, the photos and video did not seem to trump good content. Conversation was still the winner.
  • It was the CONTENT of the conversation that mattered. It wasn't just the shocking photos everyone wanted to see. People wanted real information that could HELP them during the storm.
  • We all knew it was raining and flooding. We needed information on WHERE is the storm and WHEN we should take cover in the laundry room!
  • Bay News 9 took lead in the conversation because they understood and delivered the content people needed!
5. Not knowing best practices (or choosing not to use them) determined how much business became part of conversation. 
  • The clear Twitter handle being used was #Debby
  • Not all businesses chose to use such. CNN as an example created their own which didn't seem to take off.
  • WFLA and ABC Action News did not consistently use the hashtag. Some ABC Action News employees did use the hashtag but the corporate account did not consistently do such.
  • I consider myself to be quite social savvy and even I had a difficult time finding the Twitter handles for both WFLA and ABC Action News on their websites. I finally found ABC Action News 3/4 down on their front page. I had to do a Google search to locate the Twitter handle for WFLA.
6. Businesses and media missed out (and still are missing out) on opportunity to engage in a real way to nurture relationships authentically with their past, current and potential future clients. 
  • Clearly there are numerous opportunities missed to engage, build relationships, and establish brand leadership based on integrity and value.


Takeaways & Executive Summary:

  • Early birds take the lead, fast!
  • Content trumps shock value content, including photos and videos.
  • You snooze you lose. Missed opportunities by both media and traditional business.
  • Largest Twitter account following or biggest media doesn't necessarily mean greatest and most positive impact.
  • The little guys can win too and very much be part of conversation and value to those needing information.
  • We have much room for improvement in leveraging social media to communicate needed information and engage in authentic ways during natural disasters.


Tips to join in the #Debby Tropical Storm conversation:  

  • Take time to listen and understand the tone of conversations, best practices, established leaders in conversation with a goal of understanding how you can add value.
  • Establish goals for your communication and engagement in the conversation. Do you want to establish, foster, nurture relationships? Do you want to create brand awareness for ethical reasons? Do your goals align with what those conversing need?
  • Value and content rocks. Focus on how you can genuinely become part of conversation by offering relevant value. What do the participants of conversation need that you can help with? How can you provide emotional or other support? How can you help connect them to information they need provided by other sources.
  • Consider being a curator of good information.  You don't have to be the local media or weather guru to offer valuable information. Share the good information being provided by others.
  • Check your links and read all content before retweeting. There are some folks trying to monetizing by sharing photos from years back to get clicks. Spammers are out as well so be careful what you tweet.
  • Focus on learning first with a goal to develop and execute a plan for how you can integrate social media into your communications, marketing and business in the future.
  • Don't sell! If you are looking to sell your product only then don't bother. Focus on helping others, providing useful information and matching your product or services to those communicating online only if they state a need and you can genuinely help them.
  • Take the sales conversation offline versus clouding the hashtag stream. Send the person a private DM with your phone number and contact information.
*Join our #GetRealChat Twitter chat discussion tonight at 9pm et tonight. We'll be discussing best practices and tips for using social media with integrity during natural and other disasters. 


Important Note: 

I am in no way associated with any of the companies listed above. I am not paid nor in partnership with Bay News 9. I highlighted their work only because I believe they rocked it and deserve the attention by utilizing best practices, authentic engagement, offering real value and the list goes on! Way to go Bay News 9! 

We have been considering a switch from our satellite TV to Brighthouse. I can tell you after this experience with Bay News 9 we WILL be switching. So they have earned a new customer based on their engagement specifically on Twitter! 


I am still a huge supporter of our other local news sources and hope to see them make steps toward better integrating social media into the DNA of their business over the near future. They have made progress but as most businesses have some “low hanging fruit” that could provide immediate benefit to their audience, local community and themselves. 


Supporting Data and Statistics: 

Hashtracking Report Summary:

Overall Stats: tropical storm #Debby twitter statistics

tropical storm #debby twitter statistics top 20


debby engagement overview

debby engagement impressions twitter hashtracking statistics Report: 

Tropical Storm #Debby report