Last month, our Charleston S.C. market, CHStoday, was in the middle of Hurricane Dorian’s path. At 6AM City, we focus on hyper-local content aimed to help our readers stay engaged, entertained + informed about their city. Jen, CHStoday co-editor, here to talk through how we utilized Instagram to update our local audience during the storm.
CHStoday is made up of a team of just two. We typically work on content days — sometimes weeks — in advance. We aren’t here to provide wall-to-wall coverage; we lack access to high-tech radar; we do not have a meteorologist on staff.
So, how does a brand like ours cover a storm threat that is equally uncertain as it is menacing? We doubled down on social media coverage for getting the latest information out as quickly as possible. And it worked. Between Sept. 1–8, 2019, our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram impressions each grew by an average of 150% or more.
While we did share news alerts and announcements, our big wins in terms of engagement were the posts that were topical, but lighthearted. As members of the community ourselves, we understood the feeling of anxiety our fellow Charlestonians were experiencing leading up to and during the storm — and we were happy to assume the role of “tension easers.”
- On Twitter, that meant retweeting experts or sharing information provided to us by the city.
- On Instagram, that meant staying glued to our phones to track the most relevant and interesting content that showed up on our feeds, then resharing it (with the permission of the original author).
- On Facebook, it was a combination of both.
Here’s what our Instagram feed looked like during Dorian:
Two days before Dorian’s arrival: The Coburg Cow — a famous local landmark that has, in recent years, become an unofficial gauge for determining an incoming storm’s threat — comes down. We shared this photo of it being taken down for Dorian after seeing it on our Twitter feed. 2900+ likes and ~100 comments.
One day before Dorian’s arrival: We curated photos of homes and businesses that were boarded up in preparation for Dorian. This particular image of a well-known beach house (accompanied by a caption that provided context for those unfamiliar with it) garnered 1,800 likes and 36 comments.
Hours before Dorian’s arrival: A simple video of the radar as Dorian moved up the coast was viewed 14,000+ times and received 58 comments.
During the storm: A quick video of two local guys wakeboarding on a flooded street as hurricane-strength wind gusts blew around them provided a much-needed chuckle. It instantly became our most engaged-with post of all time. 25,000+ views and 217 comments. (I totally lucked out with this one — it was happening right outside my house.)
CHStoday Social Impact — The Week of Dorian
Engagements (Likes, Comments, Shares): 30,000+
New Followers: 2,000+
We leveraged our followers for help sharing the latest announcements.
When Florence hit in 2018, we tried to keep a running list of restaurants and bars remaining open during the storm on our website. Keeping the web story updated proved difficult and time-consuming.
This year, we did it a little differently and asked local businesses planning to stay open for the duration of the storm to tag us in their posts. As they tagged us, we simply shared the posts on our Instagram story, so our followers could then track the latest openings in real time.
When conditions began to worsen in our area, we utilized Instagram stories once again to ask our followers to describe what they were witnessing in their neighborhood. This approach was successful in several aspects:
- Without the capability to dispatch reporters to each part of town, by asking our followers to share with us, we were still able to provide details on what was happening in the area.
- Those who stayed had an outlet for sharing their experiences, and those who had evacuated were able to track what their neighbors were seeing back home.
- We were able to crowdsource written content about the storm without putting anyone in harm’s way (in other words, we did not ask or encourage anyone to actually go outside and photograph the storm).
Overall, in a stressful time, I’m proud of the work myself and my co-editor, Katie, did to elevate local voices, keep our readers informed, and ultimately grow our brand.
Charleston will always have hurricanes — how we react, educate and innovate to keep our readers engaged is what is always growing. Hopefully, we’re in the clear for this season, but we’re ready for whatever comes.