Asiana 214: NTSB’s live-tweeting a plane crash investigation

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

When a major transportation accident takes place in the U.S., one of the first government bodies on the scene is the National Transportation Safety Board (@NTSB) — the agency charged with investigating exactly what happened. So when Asiana Flight 214 crashed on the runway at San Francisco International Airport (@flySFO) on July 6th, the NTSB went into its standard MO: tweeting the information it had confirmed, and explaining its investigation process, as it unfolded.

The agency live-tweeted during its investigation, sharing vital information from the crash site as it came to light.

Here’s the first Tweet @NTSB sent that day:

NTSB’s Director of Public Affairs Kelly Nantel, who handles many of the @NTSB Tweets, says that it’s now standard agency policy during accident investigations to tweet frequently: “We try as hard as we can to deliver timely, factual information as quickly and as widely as possible,” she says. “We have found this to be successful in helping the media and community stay informed about rapidly changing events.”

In fact, from the day of the crash on July 6 through July 15, @NTSB posted 86 Tweets — the biggest number on the second day, when the investigation team got on site. This included several Tweets that highlighted the damage to the inside of the plane.

Because it was too dangerous for the media to come onto the runway (accident site), Nantel explains, “We tweeted out photos of the wreckage and our team working on scene.” She observes that “Twitter helps the NTSB be open and transparent and meet the demand for factual and accurate images and information.”

Using Twitter, the NTSB can be open, transparent and meet the demand for accurate images and information.

 “We tweet both text and photos,” notes Nantel. “We tweet out photos that folks otherwise couldn’t get. For example, during the Asiana 214 crash, five minutes after the airplane’s flight data recorder got to our Washington laboratory, we tweeted out a photo of it and a minute later it was on CNN.”

The NTSB has learned something we’ve also seen at Twitter: using photos increases engagement. Photos get 1.5x the number of retweets per follower compared with the average Tweet, and 2.3x the number of favorites per follower.

The agency also tweeted their videos of media briefings, going directly to the public with the complete version.

 Crucially, many of these Tweets were actually replies to people on Twitter asking questions about the investigation, some of which highlighted the unique nature of what @NTSB was doing.

 It turned out that this wasn’t the only big investigation the @NTSB was handling that day, as news came through of an accident in Alaska.

It is a team effort, says Nantel, and that requires planning. “We all pitch in,” she says. “Everyone is encouraged to tweet information that would be of interest to our followers. During press briefings, though, one of us will solely be live-tweeting. I am the one who will respond to Tweets or try to carry on a conversation.”

It has a direct effect, too, on followers — the @NTSB account has seen follows increase by 84% since this investigation began as people on Twitter flocked to hear the raw facts from the story.

Have you seen any more innovative uses of Twitter? Mail us at [email protected]