(DGIwire) – Ever since the massive 9/11 terrorist attack, New York City has been on continuous high alert for any suspicious activity. A loud noise, wisp of smoke or increased police activity can rouse anxiety. Now, with the near ubiquity of smartphones and social media, people have come to expect this kind of news in real time, giving rise to a whole generation of “citizen journalists.” These are everyday people who take it upon themselves to report events via social media, whether that means snapping and posting a picture of a growing crowd outside a delayed subway rain, or tweeting about growing police activity in midtown Manhattan.
Because of social media, people no longer wait patiently for The New York Times to arrive the next morning, or even for the evening news. Of course, what they contribute is far from journalism in the traditional sense, since so many of these “citizen journalists” report incorrect, incomplete or skewed information—potentially causing uproar and worry for no reason.
Take, for example, the NYPD’s pursuit and detainment of a man who had been menacing people in Union Square with a hammer in early May 2015. According to the New York Post, the spree of hammer attacks came to an end when the attacker turned his tool on a cop in midtown. In response, the cop’s partner shot him down on a crowded street.
The shot didn’t kill the man, but the entire city block was roped off as a precaution, which stirred public concern. The public had been tuned in to police violence, since this happened in the wake of several other headline-making incidents of alleged police brutality. While this was not an instance of police brutality—but rather two cops doing their job to detain a very dangerous man—it still triggered a slew of frantic tweets and Facebook posts, most of which were wildly speculative.
That a story like this can go viral in less than an hour proves just how powerful tweets and Facebook posts can be. In fact, 71 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 now cite the Internet as their main news source, according to a recent study by the Public Relations Society of America. But social media doesn’t just disseminate national, local and even hyper-local news, if used correctly it can be a powerful public relations tool.
“For companies that wish to get their message about new products and services out to thousands—if not millions—of people at once, social media is the way to go,” says public relations specialist Dian Griesel, Ph.D. “Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow companies to directly interact with their consumers, providing a more personalized brand experience. However, if your social media platforms or personal blog are outdated or poorly represent you or your business, you might as well not have them at all.”
As President of DGI Comm, an award-winning media relations and news placement agency based in New York City, Griesel is well-versed in crisis management. She has successfully represented a wide range of clients—from multinational corporations to creative individuals in the throes of crisis situations—and assisted them in shaping their social media strategies.
“By pre-emptively creating a solid social media plan in advance, in conjunction with more traditional tried-and-true methods, you’ll be one step ahead of citizen journalists,” adds Griesel. “They might even be moved to tweet positively about you.”