From Milk Cartons to Facebook

I may be dating myself, but I remember the days when information was disseminated about missing children by posters on telephone poles, mentions in the local news, and the infamous milk carton postings. Times have certainly changed and the power of the Internet and mobile phones and their ability to distribute information in milliseconds can definitely be life changing, especially in the case of a missing child.


In the U.S., we have a system enacted called an “Amber Alert.” When state police issue one of these alerts all emergency channels are activated to give a description of the child and the current situation including any abductor information. Throughout the years, this system has saved countless lives and reunited families with their missing children.

Earlier this week an Amber Alert was issued in the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas for a missing 5-year-old who was taken from her elementary school. She was abducted by someone who wasn’t her mother and did not have permission to remove the child from the school grounds. It wasn’t until six hours later that this tragedy was uncovered.

As I sat at home in New Orleans, LA that night, all at once my Facebook newsfeed exploded with news of this Amber Alert. What was even more interesting was how people were able to post this on their Facebook pages. It wasn’t from Facebook itself (although that would be a nice touch for Facebook to add), nor was it from any of the local news stations I still subscribe to in the Philly area. It was from people posting the alerts they received on their mobile phones.

Some people received their news about this Amber Alert via push messages from local news applications on their phones; some received a message from Google Alerts; others received text messages from their wireless provider; and others received strange alert sounds and push notifications directly from the wireless provider. The content of the messages varied, too. Some of the messages had links to information about the alert directing consumers to their local TV station, radio station, or newspaper site; some of the messages had direct links to Google Alerts; and others had information that was contained directly in the message. What people did with that information, though, was amazing.

First, there were questions like, “Anyone know what’s up with this Amber Alert in XYZ county?” “Why’s my phone telling me about an Amber Alert – it never has before?” From there people went into full-scale “sharing mode.” They shared what they saw on their phones by sharing a link from an app on their Facebook page, or by directly typing it into their “What’s Going On” box.

Sitting in New Orleans and having a lot of friends in the Pennsylvania area while this was happening was definitely something to behold. While primarily this was happening from mobile to Facebook, there was also a big mobile to Twitter push. As a social media and integrated marketing consultant, it gave me a lot more knowledge of how people are sharing from mobile to social platforms and just how fast that information can be disseminated when people care, are passionate about an issue, or are involved in something.

While an Amber Alert isn’t a marketing message, it still is information. When information is important or valuable, it gets shared. When people are passionate about a situation and get others involved, it gets shared even more. Social networks and now mobile phone apps make it extremely easy to share this type of content and thus, information now gets shared very quickly.

Looking at this Amber Alert from the perspective of information dissemination and learning from it, companies can gain a key takeaway: mobile marketing is now just as essential as social media marketing. This is why it’s important for companies to have their content sharable on various platforms, not just on social networks. Making your content available or even pushed to a mobile base, along with making that content easy to share across platforms, has become just as vitally important to getting your message to various networks of customers, readers, and fans.

Along with a learning lesson from this situation, there is also a happy ending to this story. I’d like to think the happy ending was partially due to the amount of attention the Amber Alert received from mobile marketing to social media networks (and maybe the abductor saw just that); thankfully the little 5-year-old girl was found this morning at a bus station in Philadelphia, unharmed.

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