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by Kate McMahon

"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

As the Boston Marathon tragedy unfolded, social media played a crucial role in disseminating breaking news, connecting loved ones and allowing the nation to voice its heartbreak and concern for the victims and the stricken city.

The first reports of the explosion near the finish line were broadcast on Twitter, followed by graphic video clips and photos. Shortly thereafter cell phone networks were overwhelmed and many informational websites crashed due to heavy internet traffic. The public was encouraged to use texts, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others to communicate.

From a public safety perspective, Twitter allowed the Boston Police Department to immediately issue minute-by-minute updates, cautions, and requests for any footage, photos or eyewitness reports that may aid the investigation.

Both the Red Cross and Google were quick to tweet links to sites enabling marathon runners and spectators to connect with concerned friends and family across the world.

For the corporate sponsors of the event – including the official shoe and apparel provider Adidas, John Hancock Insurance, Gatorade, Samuel Adams beer, PowerBar, Poland Spring Water and JetBlue – the shocking explosions had a ripple effect.

First and foremost was concern for employees volunteering and teams running in the storied 26.2 mile race. The next step was responding to the crisis on Facebook and Twitter, further proof that the speed and power of social media today demands that companies react and address real-time events immediately. There are no playbooks for a crisis such as this.

The most prominent logo in the race was the three stripes from Adidas, which outfitted 8,500 volunteers and 3,500 others in Boston Marathon jackets. In the photo emblazoned across the front page of the New York Times, the Adidas banner “All in for Boston” was the backdrop to a bloodied victim being treated on the sidewalk.

After accounting for the 100 employees at the race, Adidas somberly posted “We are shocked by the terrible news from Boston” above previous posts sharing in the excitement of the day and promoting an app to track runners.

The John Hancock Facebook page had been updated throughout the early afternoon with upbeat photos of its employee team prior to the start and congratulations to the jubilant victors of the race. That all changed an hour later and its cover photo became a darkened Boston skyline with an expression of sympathy superimposed on the picture. The insurer yesterday announced it has donated $1 million to The One Fund to help affected families.

There was also an immediate response from Poland Spring Water, which had been lambasted in the media a few months ago for failing to respond via social media after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took a swig of its product during his response to the president’s State of the Union address. Above photos of runners, the brand said: “Our thoughts are with everyone.”

Monday’s post on the Sam Adams page said, “We are heartbroken.” Yesterday the Boston brewer announced it will be donating all profits from its limited release Boston 26.2 Brew to help relief efforts, prompting hundreds more comments from Sam Adams fans across the country expressing support.

It is instructive.

In recent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shootings and Monday’s attack, social media creates for us a virtual neighborhood. So it only seems fitting that as we all struggled to find words, the phrase that went viral on Facebook and Twitter was from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." To quote Fred Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”

In Boston, people ran to help.

On a personal note, I was part of the cheering throng at four marathons while a college student in Boston from 1974-78. Three years later I had the thrill of covering the event for United Press International. I rode tin he press truck ahead of the race for the entire route. It was an unforgettable experience. I know I join everyone who has ever celebrated a Patriot’s Day in Boston in sharing my thoughts and prayers with the victims, their families and that great city.

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