Eyjafjallajokul Volcano – The #ashtag Twitter Effect

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Chances are you had never heard of the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier in Iceland until this week, and there is even more chance that you cannot pronounce it! What we can pretty much guarantee is that somebody you know has been affected by the giant cloud of ash that has spread across Europe, causing the cancellation of thousands of flights and millions of people being either stranded overseas or stuck in their homelands. We decided to take a look at how Social Media has been used to spread the news and spark an astonishing amount of noise…

Update – see our new post for useful #ashtag related resources


As people in the UK arose on Thursday April 15th, there was news breaking of vast amounts of volcanic ash floating its way across the skies of Northern Europe and leaving a trail of cancelled flights in its wake. It sounded like a joke at first but as the reports became clearer it was obvious that there was indeed a major problem in the skies. Checking in to twitter is now arguably the best way to get real time news and opinion and as the jokes started to fly, it was clear that this episode was capturing the imagination of Twitterville. 

The Birth of #ashtag 

Incase you are not aware of the use of the hashtag (#) on twitter, it works like this – a hot topic will be allocated a tag by a twitter user, this allows tweets and info to be gathered under one source. When you send out a tweet, you ‘tag’ it for example #edinburgh, one of the key points about this is that it allows you to use twitter search (or many of the other sites that will allow you to search twitter) in conjunction with the hashtag in question and you will be served with the latest results for the tag in question. Got that? Good! 

So when it came to allocating a tag to the the Eyja Volcano debacle, it was very quickly named as #ashtag, a simple and funny move! Who started it though? Well according to Trendistic it was twitter user Angry Britain with help from @Dweezil1968. However JL Pagano may also lay claim! It was first used at approximately 7:02am on Thurs 15th Whoever it was, we commend you! 

Update – 10:25 19/04 – It looks like Angry Britain have conceded the #ashtag – read their release here 

The #ashtag was very quickly adopted by the twitter user base and was employed as a vehicle for jokes, news updates, moans, groans and delight at being stranded on sunnier shores and of course by businesses looking to offer help to those who could not travel by air or needed longer stays at their current destination. According to socialmention.com the #ashtag is being used at an average of once every 13 seconds. This use has led to the tag being a top trend on twitter and this is unlikely to change as the volcano continues to spew out ash. 

Update 10:00 19/04 

Two related hashtags are now in use – #getmehome and #stranded, people are using them to gather info and request lifts home by any means necessary! 

It appears Twitter may be creaking under the strain of #ashtag and it’s spin off noise, the Fail Whale has been spotted!

#getmehome tag is working overtime!

Stop Staring at my Ash

It Tweets! 

Volcanoes are pretty awesome things, of that there is no doubt, but who would have thought they could use twitter too? Well Eyjafjallajokul can and has been tweeting in a fairly amusing manner since Thursday, follow the big rumbler here. Somebody taking the time to set this up shows the truly imaginative and pro-active nature of the twittersphere. Who is Eyjafjallajokul? We may never know… 

Time for Action 

Back to the more serious stuff, what about the people that needed to extend their stay in a hotel? There is no doubt that the accommodation industry has had a huge part to play and many providers have faced a tough decision, do we do the good PR thing and discount rooms for stranded people or take the greedy route and pump up the rates? People need to move around too, so what about the alternative transport providers? The situation has no doubt raised a lot of internal questions among those who work on the twitter (and other soc med outlets) for the transport and accommodation providers around how best to deal with the situation. 

The resource allocated to their SM communications will have had to be increased as social savvy travellers and business people turned to the social web for the most up to date info in a quest to get moving or find a bed for the night. This represents a great opportunity for the brands, surely if a person received good info and assistance from a provider in their time of need, that person would become a life long customer and a potential advocate for the brand? Silence from the well known providers would clearly have a negative effect on sentiment and likelihood of future custom. The fact is that many businesses do not know how to make best use of their Social Media presences and a big event like this tests their knowledge and willingness to go that extra mile. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of nice examples: 

Brittany Ferries 

The Ferry company that traverses the English Channel has been providing real-time updates on availability and directly responding to queries. After some digging it would seem that they have been responding within the hour which is great seeing as their incoming queries must have rocketed. The best thing is that the people who have been interacting with Brittany have been pleased with the service. 

Nice work Brittany Ferries

Holiday Holiday 

Holiday Holiday is search engine for travel with a modest twitter following, but in the last few days it has been keeping on top of all the updates and making sure they communicate them swiftly. A nice move from them and hopefully one that makes more people aware of their service. 

Spreading the Word

We Speak To The Stranded! 

As this post was written, we were on twitter trying to talk to people that were overseas and unable to get back home. A very helpful response came from Dan Meiring who has been stranded in Amsterdam with his friend Andy Moss since Thursday. They were due to fly home with Easy Jet but were informed of the cancellation on arrival at the airport. Luckily for them, they have been put up in a 4 star hotel by Easy Jet since then. Dan has been using extensively using twitter to stay up to date with the latest news and also to gather quotes for alternative travel. The duo have looked at car hire and were quoted 1 euro per KM!.  They were quoted £370 each by  Euro Star and all ferries are full until Friday. We hope they get home soon (there are worse places to be!) and don’t have to shell out some serious wonga in the process! 

Update – 09:53 19/04 

Another tale of woe comes from our pal @ellisdanielle, her sister is stranded in Syria and is making her way back home over land and was expected to reach Istanbul today. A long (but no doubt interesting) journey! Good luck to her!  Update 12:15 19/04 – Danielle informs us that her Sister is now in Istanbul and struggling to find onward travel, let us know if you have a solution for her! Update – She is now taking train across Greece to Thesaloniki, then a ferry to Italy to catch another train!

New – Helpful Resources 

Visit roadsharing.com for info on available lifts within Europe, follow them here for quick updates! 

A Facebook group for the stranded has sprung up  – join it here for info and people helping each other to get home, 729 members so far. Another new page here aiming to put people seeking lifts together

Follow @eurocontrol for airport and airspace updates

So there you go, more evidence that twitter and real time search are the kings of news and citizen reporting! If you have been stranded and have used Social Media to help you, please let us know! Or perhaps you have been spreading the word? Tell us about your efforts! Keep up to date with the latest on the ash, well you guessed it, use #ashtag over at twitter search

About Dave the Social Penguin

Dave is Mike's right hand Penguin and easily the smartest Penguin ever to waddle this earth. Dave loves you.

  • http://www.angrybritain.com AngryBritain.com

    Whether it was @AngryBritain or @JL_Pegrano that got it going around Twitter, it was genius.

    ‘Plane’ and simple.

    Follow us on Twitter: @AngryBritain
    Visit us: http://www.angrybritain.com

  • http://www.travel-rants.com Darren Cronian

    Good post. Just to add to the power of the #ashtag – I’ve been posting updates since early hours on Thursday, and will continue to do so, but, by tweeting I have been interviewed by Herald newspaper, ABC Melbourne, and I have an interview with RTE in the morning. Keep people updated and use social media, and you never know what can happen.

    • http://socialmediamike.wordpress.com socialmediamike

      Nice work Darren, just shows helping people with Social Media can be very rewarding in many ways.