(Re) Defining the News – A conversation with Only In Boston

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(Re) Defining the News

A conversation with Only in BostonScreenshot 2016-05-23 at 11.50.08 AM

In a relatively short period of time the advent of mobile and digital communication has rewired our everyday lives. It’s hard to believe that only 20 years ago the ability to make a phone call on a wireless device was very exciting. I was among the first of my friends to buy a cell phone because I was habitually late and saw it as the answer to most of my problems, “You mean I can call people and tell them that I’m on my way? That’s fucking genius.”

Although we are constantly redefining what it means to be able to send and process information digitally some older methods of doing things like reading the actual newspaper or calling someone from a landline are already becoming obsolete. It’s only natural that as technology improves and information travels faster, humans will seek out and create better ways to keep up.

One industry that has been hit particularly hard by the digital age is the News. These days the news comes from all around us and that has deeply affected institutions we once to clung to like The Boston Globe or the Nightly News. Some of these changes have been good. For example, today we are more connected and better able to react to critical situations. Others not so much, as paid promotions and political agendas are currently being served to us in combination with or alongside actual headlines. Sorry Facebook, but you have never and will never be a good place to get the news.

Clearly the opportunity in the digital age is great but it remains to be seen who will do great things. To that end, I recently sat down with the owner of one of Boston’s most popular social media accounts @OnlyInBos to find out how it has succeeded where most have sputtered and what’s next on their horizon.

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Your identity is a bit of a mystery. What can you tell us about yourself?

I believe Only In Boston is and should be a reflection of this city, not me. I am constantly reacting to what the city is talking about and what is happening here. If you look at my followers you can see that they are people who appreciate and react to things that are both informative and entertaining. I consider myself to be a viral catalyst. People also respect consistency and volume, most days I’m pushing out at least 25 tweets. I will say that I’m pretty young and I take pride in bringing a fresh perspective to the city of Boston. A lot of media sources in Boston are really stuck in an old world of doing things. It’s tough for everyday people and businesses to get noticed and to be supported by sources like the Boston Globe so I also want to be a place that provides that voice for the city.

How long ago did you start tweeting?

I started the account in 2012 and started tweeting in 2013.

How were you able to grow it so quickly?Screenshot 2016-05-23 at 7.55.52 AM

If you think about the range of events from 2013 until now Boston has been in the news globally for things like The Marathon Bombing, The Patriots winning the Super Bowl, The Red Sox winning the World Series, a recording breaking winter and Deflategate.  Every time there was a big moment in this city over the past three year I summarized what people were thinking. And in between I have consistently delivered informative and entertaining content and the audience has just grown organically. Now we are growing at 1000 followers every 7 days. Everyone has a passion but I was fortunate enough to have a spark and ever since that spark I’ve been trying to build this into a large fire and something special.  Personally this has opened a lot of doors for me but it’s also really made me appreciate this city. There’s so many interesting stories in Boston and there’s no real good outlet to capture them.

Do you remember your most impactful tweet?

The Boston Marathon Bombing was really the point where people started to realize that social media was faster and more effective than traditional media and it really showed the value of Twitter. So during the lockdown I heard that there was this one Dunkin Donuts in Watertown that they kept open so that law enforcement could get refreshments and use the bathroom.  I tweeted something like “this is the most Boston thing I’ve ever heard of, the only thing open in Watertown right now is Dunkin Donuts.” That tweet got almost 4,000 retweets. It was a cool fact but in that moment, while traditional media just kept talking about the same things and making people more and more nervous, I gave them the ability to take a breath and cut though some of that tension. I think that’s why it was so popular.

What is the coolest thing you’ve covered so far?

I partnered with the Red Sox last winter and we did a promotion where if you shoveled five fire hydrants then you got a pair of tickets to a game. That became a big story that got covered by Sports Illustrated and I got interviewed by the Weather Channel. Ironically Boston.com barely even mentioned it. It was cool because if I could get the Red Sox to contribute 100 tickets for something like that, then what else could I accomplish? I really started to believe in the power of what I was doing and that anything was possible.

Screenshot 2016-05-23 at 7.57.00 AM Can you build a business via twitter?

I think you can but I’m definitely trying to grow my other networks. Right now if there is an important event people are checking their Snapchat. I also love Snapchat because when I work with a brand in that way I work with them directly so they are engaged and creating really cool stuff instead of having to go through a PR or Marketing agency.

There’s lots of talk about how Instagram under Facebook’s rule is now using an algorithm to manipulate what people see in their feeds, do you think twitter will ever change its format?

They recently switched their app category from social networking to news which is really interesting because as much as twitter is having it’s struggles there is still nobody that can react to live news and events like twitter.  I think Snapchat can come close but from a reaction standpoint and a way to integrate picture and video, twitter is there. That is something that they can hold onto for a while until they can figure out how businesses can really take advantage of the platform.

Thoughts on expanding to other cities?

In the beginning I had those accounts but I just don’t have the time. I would certainly know how to accelerate an account in another market but it’s really not worth it to me. I’ve worked hard so that I don’t have to walk into a room and explain who I am. You can’t replicate what I did with Only In Boston because that was all about timing and I really haven’t even come close to accomplishing what I want to here. Boston offers so much. It really is the Hub.

Sam Calef

Sam Calef

Sam Calef is Founder and Managing Partner at Well Done Boston. He always has time for interesting people, the whole truth and a trip to the beach.

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