Social Media, Scoops, and the Election

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Social media has been a big part of this year’s election, from President Obama’s cool Dashboard to live tweeting the presidential debates (my sister in New Zealand said there was no point in looking at Twitter at all during the debates if you weren’t following the election).

For one of our clients, social media also produced an excellent opportunity.

While we on the mainland were voting for president yesterday, the people of Puerto Rico, who are also citizens of the U.S. but cannot vote for president, were voting on the status of their island. Would they prefer to be a state, an independent nation, or a territory of the United States?

The Puerto Rico Report, a news site we launched this summer, has been following this one issue. We’ve watched the site increase traffic steadily through plenty of strong content and regular linkbuilding, and we added social media to the mix a couple of months ago.

Still, this is a new site for a nonprofit organization, with limited resources and no staff beyond the clients and Haden Interactive.

During last night’s watch party, the client in Puerto Rico posted a report on the early results of the Puerto Rico status vote and tweeted the blog post.

I retweeted, and so did about 100 others. When I saw the tweet, “Is PRRico Report the only one following the PR statehood vote?” I knew we had something good going on.

It was not until about six hours later that news organizations on the mainland began posting those early results — and by then, that tweet had a reach of more than 286,000.

Traffic spiked at one point with ten times the normal number of visitors at one time, and the overall  traffic yesterday was double the norm. Today it has already surpassed that, and it’s scarcely afternoon.

There are some lessons from this experience, as with any spike in traffic: when you happen to be in the right place at the right time, make sure you have a great website to send people to, for example. Or, one of my favorite bits of blogging advice, there’s always something you know that other people want to know.

However, you can’t really plan to scoop all the major media outlets any more than you can plan to be featured in the Google Doodle. That saying about luck being where preparation meets opportunity applies.

What this story does show, it seems to me, is not only that it pays to be prepared, and to follow up when you have a bit of luck, but also that new media helps to level the playing field a bit. In the days when newspapers and TV were the main sources of news, a months-old news organization like this one could never have had this experience.

Take advantage of this. You never know.

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