When a car sped through a busy UAB campus green and crashed into the dining hall window, the news went out quickly on Twitter and Facebook. But not a single mainstream media outlet responded.
Instead, UAB student blogger Andrew Stone posted the story and photos to his site, Iloveuab.com. That single post, “BREAKING NEWS! Car crashes into UAB Commons!” led to high traffic and queries from those media outlets.
We asked Stone to share how the story came together, and how he managed to build on that one fateful post.
April 27 was a normal day, and as usual I was brainstorming about what I needed to write for the day. I’m sure you know how it is: Sometimes, there’s tons to talk about, and other times, you have to force the words to flow from your fingers. However, all that changed very quickly!
(If you have ever used TweetDeck, then you know how awesome the program is, especially the search feature, letting you monitor streams of tweets involving certain keywords. I, of course, monitor the keywords “UAB” and “Birmingham.” I do this because I want to build a Twitter following: Whenever I see someone tweet about UAB or Birmingham that piques my interest, I add them.)
I was going through the long list of UAB tweets, adding a few people here and there. To my surprise, I came across a tweet that read something like this:
“Pray for UAB, a Car narrowly missed our prayer tent out on the UAB Green.”
I had no idea what was going on, so I sent the person an @reply tweet inquiring about more details. While I waited, I hopped on Facebook and quickly realized something big and crazy had happened on campus. Minutes later, I receive a Facebook chat message from one of my fraternity brothers that a “car had crashed into the UAB Commons.”
(I can’t even convey to you how ridiculously stupid that sounds. If you know where UAB Commons on the Green is [map], you know how absurd it would be!)
I sprang into action!
As fate would have it, I had just recently wrecked my car (ironic, I know) and had to call around to get a ride to campus. When I got there with my trusty camera in hand, I could not believe my eyes! Some guy had crashed his car into the Commons!
The area was taped off, the tow truck had just arrived (the same tow truck and driver that towed me two days prior, LOL). I quickly snapped about 15 pictures of the outside and inside of the “crime scene” while the car was hooked up and pulled out of the building.
I then proceeded to ask everyone and anyone what had happened. We won’t go into it, but they gave a lot of speculation.
When I got home an hour or so later, I began to write. I threw together some witty words and uploaded all of my photos. Here is where the magic starts.
I knew that this story had the potential to be big, so I wanted to get into the search engines quick! Everyone has their own methods of getting ranked quick, but within about 8 minutes, I was ranked for the terms I wanted:
Next, I hit up Facebook. I immediately posted my link to my status and asked a few friends to do so, also. Then I updated my Fan Page, and the snowball effect began. Before I knew it, 10 to 15 people had my link in their statuses.
From there, I hit it hard with Twitter. I wrote a quick tweet and included “key people” who I thought might be likely to retweet my interesting and odd story such as @wadeontweets, @vulcansmuse, @<insert random Birmingham Twitterer here>. Just as the story had snowballed on Facebook, it began to happen on Twitter. Tons and tons of people were retweeting my link, and tons of people were beginning to flow to my site.
As the story grew and people began to comment on my blog post, I began to seek more information. People wanted to see what the guy looked like, so as soon as camera phone pictures of the “perp” surfaced on Facebook, I was quick to post them.
I also began to speculate on who this guy was and why he had done this. This speculation ended up almost getting me in a lot of trouble.
Over the next 48 hours, I received more visitors to my blog than I usually receive in a whole month. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the hits went up and up, as did the number of comments.
It turns out that I was really the only person that had some good high quality pictures of the crash, and my post was the single bit of information about the incident. Who would have known it, but the TV news stations in the area began to approach me!
I was getting tweets from @myfoxal and e-mails from various anchors asking if they could write about my story and use my pictures! It was awesome, because they all credited me and I got some amazing links from their sites (you can’t beat getting free high page rank links from NBC 13, Fox 6 and AL.com!). It was great!
I had come out quite well. Over a three-day period, my site had received 7,000 uniques and 30-plus comments on that one post. Even better, I had gained about 70 RSS subscribers, 50-plus Twitter followers, 200 Facebook fans and a slew of new readers!
Another thing that I implemented towards the end of the traffic swell was a mailing list. I really wish I had gotten it up previous to the story going viral, but procrastination had struck again! The mailing list went live around the 72-hour mark, so I was only really able to “capture” about 30 or so subscribers there, but hey, it’s a start.
So what was it that set my blog and that post apart from anyone else?
Well, it turns out that I was not the first site to break the story. One personal blog and another UAB blog, Inside UAB (my arch-nemesis), had broken the story about 30 minutes before me.
So why didn’t they overtake me simply because they were first? It’s kind of simple. I just happen to have 1,000 Facebook friends, 80 percent UAB students. I also happen to maintain my Twitter daily and have created a ton of contacts and connections. Networking was the key to this post’s success.
(I suppose it also helped that I wrote in a witty and interesting way, as well as quickly building a few backlinks to dominate Google’s search engine results page.)
All in all, it was a blast to see the Iloveuab.com blog explode and get my 10 minutes of fame (ha ha). But it shows how important and relevant a blog can be for actual news and entertainment
Andrew Stone, a business student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, runs Iloveuab.com, an unofficial blog and student hub about the school.
What can bloggers and journalists learn from breaking news coverage in the Web 2.0 era?