“Oh my God,” I said, “I have friends in that race!”
I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, but I know that was the first thing I said.
And I know the first things I did: turn on the radio, and get onto social media.
I spent a lot of that Monday listening for news, then sharing it with the immediate world via Twitter and Facebook. That Patriots’ Day and the week that followed taught me four lessons I will never forget.
- Write only what people care about. On Monday, I cancelled any tweets I had pre-scheduled. I ignored any other topic. I wrote only for people like me who said “I have friends in that race. Are they all right? What’s really going on?”
- Write what I know better than other people. I live in greater Boston, and the local NPR affiliate, WBUR, is my soundtrack every day. Simply by listening to the radio and following other Boston-area friends on social media, I knew more than 95% of the people in the country. What I knew, I shared.
- Be a source of reliable information. There were a lot of rumors flying around, and the media were more often fanning the flames than keeping their cool. We were better off reading the Onion or the Borowitz Report than the New York Post (or watching CNN). I made sure to pass along only what seemed certain–and even then, I gave my sources.
- Listen, and engage in conversation. When I heard about friends who reported they were safe, I spread the word. When people asked questions on Twitter, I used @ messages to write them back. I followed the #boston hashtag to keep track of the conversation in real time.
Looking back at it, it occurs to me: these four lessons are not just for crises.
If you want people to pay attention to what you write, you should write what people care about and what you know best, giving reliable information and engaging in conversation, every time you post, tweet, or talk or email.
Only, don’t write as often every day as I did on Patriots’ Day 2013. Because communicating with your readers is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.