Social media in Thunder Bay proved a point on Easter Sunday 2012

iconsTHUNDER BAY – The speed of social media in Thunder Bay proved a point on Easter Sunday 2012. Social media can take information and spread it at a rate far faster than traditional media. Between Facebook where there are 70,000 accounts within fifty kilometres, and Twitter where there are a growing number of users, a story on a missing person was reported online Sunday afternoon. A free Kijii ad was viewed over 900 times.

The piece was shared by hundreds of Facebook users on what up until then appeared to be a quiet day online. NNL reported the story, and Tweeted it. Within mere seconds, the Chatham Kent Police, the RCMP Heritage Centre and several other people had re-tweeted the post. Within three hours, word came back that the missing person had been located.

While it has been suggested by some that social media offers a risk to corporate, government agencies and departments, the reality is very simple. The public is already there. To not be there too leaves a vaccum and as science teaches, nature abhours a vacumm. The lack of information will be taken over by a public who will get it out there. That fact has been seen in Youtube videos, Facebook pages, and blog postings from people across the globe seeking solutions when business, governments, or agencies fail to offer them.

In Thunder Bay over recent weeks, two incidents demonstrate how social media is out-pacing traditional ideas on communications. The first was a smash and grab robbery at a local shop. The shop owner who has had several similar incidents decided this time to try something different. The security tape video was placed online. Links and details were shared on Facebook, and on Youtube. Local news outlets ran the video.

Just over 3000 people saw the video on Youtube. Information came in that identified the criminals.

On Easter Sunday, a young person was reported missing by her family members. Once again the information was placed on Facebook. Hundreds of people shared the information, and the details were posted online by news outlets in the city. Three hours after that happened, the missing person was located.

Sometimes it appears to be something left over from the 1960s, the ‘Generation Gap’ in Thunder Bay where new ideas, technologies and tactics are adopted early by youth and progressive individuals, while being ignored, shunned, or even seen as a risk by some in society.

If you think back, when the first automobiles were arriving on the streets, laws were passed in some communities requiring a man with a flag proceed a car as it would travel city streets. History sometimes has a way of repeating itself, although often in different ways.

Thunder Bay has a very Internet savvy population. Statistics Canada reports that seventy-nine per cent of our population is connected to the Internet.

The key toward communications success is simple. One can fight what is happening, or one can embrace what is going on. Regardless of what governments, agencies and business decide, the people have already moved online.

That old adage of ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way’ likely applies.

James Murray