Social Media and the US Airways Crash

It seems a lot of folks are talking about the role social media played in yesterday’s US Airways Flight 1549 landing in the Hudson River. I first learned about the events through a Twitter breaking news feed and like most of the world, I was riveted as I watched the heroic actions of the pilot, crew, passengers and the rescue workers and bystanders who plunged into the icy water to help.

I mentioned in my 09 predictions that SM would play a larger role in crisis communications and the way things went down yesterday, I feel confident in that statement. (Photographs showing the emergency landing began popping up on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr long before national news agencies picked up the story; and even more time went by before US Airways joined the conversation). So, let’s take a quick second to review how social media broke the story and what industry leaders are saying about it.

The first recorded image appeared on TwitPic at 3:28 p.m. and was posted by Janis Krums – who in true Andy Warhol fashion has become a bit of a celebrity because of it, making the rounds on CNN, GMA, MSNBC and more. Within minutes of Krums’ upload, his photo started appearing on blogs and Twitter lit up as people passed the image around.

CNN picked up the story at 4:06 p.m.

US Airways didn’t use its official Twitter account until 4:29 p.m., almost an hour after the crash. And it only posted a link to coverage on MSNBC.

The New York Times had a tweet account up by 5:02 p.m. which it continued to update throughout the event. By now, media all over the world covered the event, most reprinting images from Twitter.

Incidentally, US Airways didn’t issue an official statement from CEO Doug Parker until 6:40 p.m.

Of course, in this age of “my media is better than your media,” twitterers quickly began congratulating each other for breaking the story. As of this writing, there are more than 1,500 tweets about how social media is faster (and therefore better) than traditional news.

But, others disagree. “I’m sure people will say Twitter provided all the news on Hudson River crash, but I found little info there while TV was loaded,” wrote online media vet Neil Budde, founding editor and publisher of The Wall Street Journal Online and now president of news aggregation site

“To those [that think] soc med (twitter) has killed trad. media: Twitter can’t write this piece on crash [survivors],” wrote John Sternal, a public relations consultant, pointing to a local news story about one of the plane’s lucky passengers.

I certainly agree that traditional media was able to dive deeper into the story than certainly Twitter and even a lot of bloggers, but still, a little credit is due here, folks. For me the topper came when CNN tossed to a reporter to give some background on the pilot – and she cited his Linked In profile!

The simple fact is social media tools are playing an increasingly important role is crisis comms and hopefully, we’ll see more examples of traditional and new media working together for breaking news, especially as PR pros bring the two mediums together in their strategic planning.

In the meantime, congratulations to all of the passengers, the pilot and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 as well as the many folks who jumped in to help.


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