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What A Little Red Panda Can Show Us About The Big Power Of Social Media

Posted by hlg123 on June 26, 2013


When Rusty the red panda escaped from the National Zoo in Washington yesterday, the search and rescue efforts blew up on Twitter. By mid morning all of my coworkers had shared the updates on the search for Rusty. By midday, friends in other states were texting me with updates. By the afternoon, news of Rusty’s rescue was front page news. The New York Times detailed  the unfolding of yesterday’s events, on the ground in Washington and on Facebook and Twitter:

“The zoo announced Rusty’s disappearance to its thousands of Twitter followers in a message at 11:51 a.m, which was retweeted nearly 3,000 times in an hour.

At midday, mentions of “Rusty” on Twitter nearly equaled those of “Obama.” ABC News started a blog with “live coverage” of the search.

“Please help us find Rusty,” the zoo pleaded on Twitter, explaining that he was last seen at 6 p.m. on Sunday and might be nearby “hiding in a tree.”

On its Facebook page, the zoo said keepers were combing the Asia Trail habitat, whereRusty and Shama live between the Japanese giant salamander and the small-clawed otter, since 8 a.m. But in an ominous note, the zoo said it was possible Rusty had been stolen.

Animal lovers and Internet wits jumped into the fray. In a city that 40 years ago went gaga for a pair of giant pandas sent as gifts from China, the top trending topic on Twitter was #redpanda.”

So what can the trending habits of the search for a lost red panda tell us about the power of social media? A lot. It’s a stunning reminder of how much (and how fast) things have changed. Social networks can start a popular trend, help launch an international social movement, or in this case, locate a little lost red panda. Often the world of social networking and the “real world” seem to run parallel to one another, but when the intersect, like they did in the search for Rusty, the power scope of social media is on full display.

–Hannah Griffin

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