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The people behind @irene
Hurricane Irene boosted Irene Tien’s Twitter followers—but now that the storm has passed, what will she tell them?
Hurricane Irene has said her goodbyes on Twitter.
And now Irene Tien is figuring out what to do with her longtime Twitter handle, @irene, after she lent it to two colleagues who cleverly impersonated the tropical storm, providing both humor and warnings to those in Irene’s path.
“I’m really happy with the reaction that we got and the service we were able to provide with the Twitter account,” Tien said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “But it’s a little bizarre having 10,000 followers, most of who I don’t know.”
Having a first-name Twitter account is the mark of a well-connected early adopter. Tien, 28, is a senior product strategist at Huge Inc., a digital marketing, design, and consulting agency. But she didn’t think to check with the National Weather Service to see if they planned on naming any hurricanes after her when she signed up for @irene in 2006.
On Thursday, Tien’s account started receiving tweets asking her to stop flooding their basements, knocking over their lawn chairs, and ripping down their trees.
Her response was, “Btw, tweeting @irene doesn’t deliver any messages to the hurricane. Sorry.” Despite having her response retweeted more than 100 times, it did not catch on and the hurricane related messages kept pouring in.
So on Friday, instead of deleting her account or making it private, Tien turned it over to her Huge Inc. colleagues Bjorn Larsen and Ross Morrison so they could give the people what they wanted: a Hurricane Irene twitter account.
The two men spent the next three days in Morrison’s Brooklyn apartment both making jokes and promoting safety in the storm. As the rain pummelled the city, @irene ballooned from 600 followers to more than 11,000, Tien said in an interview with the Daily Dot.
“It was great because everyone was getting really solid information about what to do but it was also really funny and it made it a little less serious,” Tien said. “Everyone was really on edge and it was a good combination of something with a little more bite and also serious information.”
The account struck the perfect balance between humor and practical information and eventually caught the attention of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Larsen and Morrison “liaised with FEMA and offered to give them access to the account if they should need it as the storm developed,” wrote Tien in an article for AdAge.
“It’s a hard thing to do. People’s lives are being affected by this event. We didn’t want to mock anything but we also wanted to have a fun aspect to it,” Morrison said in an interview with the Daily Dot.
Now that the hurricane has passed and the East Coast is drying out, Tien plans on taking back the reigns of @irene but is a bit weary of her newfound fans.
She still doesn’t know when she’s going to replace the profile photo on the account—currently a picture of her blustery alter ego.
Fernando Alfonso III served as an early Reddit and 4chan reporter and the Daily Dot’s first art director until 2016. He’s gone on to report at Lexington’s Herald-Leader and at the Houston Chronicle.