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What Boston’s Epic Blizzards Taught Me about Social Marketing

Published: February 25, 2015

Author: Juliana Nicholson

As someone who was born and raised in upstate NY, I always thought I knew what it meant to endure a snowy winter. But this year in Boston has put my previous street cred to shame. This February alone, the city has accumulated over 60 inches of snow—that’s more than the total seasonal snowfall we have received in over 75% of the last 124 winters.
Blizzard_Boston With a broken public transportation system and only so many hours of Netflix watching in me, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate life, love, and, most importantly, social media marketing. So, with my mittens off for the first time in days, I wanted to jot down some lessons that Boston’s blizzards have afforded me.

Real-time Cause Marketing Can Help Brands Win Big

More often than not, a silver lining emerges from Mother Nature’s wrath. People remind us that they’re actually pretty decent at heart. A family goes on a grocery run for their elderly neighbor. Someone offers their home to a family without power. Or, in Boston’s case, a Major League Baseball team incentivizes people to help the city shovel.
That’s right, the Red Sox offered Bostonians a little motivation to help dig out the city’s 13,000+ fire hydrants, giving away 2 tickets to residents who cleared out 5 fire hydrants. The Sox of course got the word out on social, using the hashtag #HydrantChallenge.
There’s a misconception that many marketers hold on to, that “taking advantage” of natural disasters or hardships is in bad taste. And majority of the time, I agree. But the Red Sox proved that real-time marketing campaigns don’t have to be sleazy or opportunistic. Rather than promote themselves, they tapped into the community-wide effort.
This altruistic social behavior has had a major payoff, earning the team tons of local coverage and public applause. Bostonians certainly didn’t need another reason to back the Sox, but they found one.

Social Gave the Little Guy the Upper Leg

Perhaps the biggest losers in all this slushy mess were local businesses, many of which were rendered staff-less and patron-less by the lack of public transportation and dangerous road conditions.
All hope was not lost, however, as many restaurants, gyms, and local shops found ways to get employees into work (my gym actually paid taxi fares to staff their various locations). But this was only half the battle, as these businesses still needed to inform their customers that they were actually open for business.
Did these businesses update their websites with amended hours of operations? Did they run radio or TV ads? No. Instead, to disseminate information, local businesses turned to the hashtag #OpenInBOS. Using this hashtag, Bostonians could find local businesses offering anything from groceries to a cold beer.
This has since been followed by a #DigOutDineOut campaign, in which a slew of local restaurants are again using social to drive buzz for promotions that will hopefully counteract the damage done by weeks of hindered business.

The Power of the Angry Mob Reigns Supreme

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for everyone, but perhaps most so for the MBTA, Boston’s antiquated and beleaguered public transportation system.
To those of you who are not keeping up on the news, the MBTA has suffered staggering delays and cancellations due to the exorbitant amount of snow we have received. Thousands of angry commuters have taken their reactions to social, expressing everything from blind rage to sarcastic submission, and once again reminding everyone that hell hath no fury like a scorned Twitter user.
Luckily the MBTA, now buried by snow and complaints, attempted to keep up with the waves of questions and comments. Taking on a 24/7 moderation battle that would daunt some of the nation’s largest crisis PR teams, the organization proved that you can’t always stop a flood, but you can certainly slow the flow of water. To the MBTA’s credit, they did use Twitter very effectively to juggle live updates for dozens of bus routes, commuter trains, subway lines, and even ferries. I won’t say people were happy with them…. but the situation would have certainly been worse had they not taken an active role in managing their online social communities.
So there you have it, the (hopefully somewhat coherent) ranting of a social marketer, trapped indoors for upwards of 72 hours. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 33 out and sunny. I’m hitting the beach.

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