On a recent Saturday evening, we had an F2 tornado rip through a town in the southern portion of our 16,000-circulation Central Illinois market.

We all know that writers, photographers and the entire newsroom live for this type of action. As one would expect, the entire team sprang into action within a matter of minutes and coverage was under way.

With our print product not coming out until Monday morning (we are a six-day-a-week newspaper), we started immediately updating our website with the latest information as it rolled in. Our website is the go-to place in our county with approximately 1.3 million page views each month. Additionally, it provides us a great opportunity to provide instantaneous information at a moment's notice.

That said, as with most newsmedia websites, it lacks the reader/user inter-connectivity or the robust and rapid communication between us and our readers.

Within a few minutes of our reporters springing into action, we noticed one of our 1,600 fans on The Times Facebook page made a comment asking about the location of the tornado, inquiring if their family or relatives were safe. Pretty soon another Facebook fan responded with the answer to the previous fan's question and posted additional information. It wasn’t long before the Facebook fan page sprang to life. In a matter of few hours we had hundreds of old and new fans posting valuable information and asking hard-to-answer questions.

In addition to posting to our website, we began posting all our leading information on Facebook linking back to our website for the entire story. We did the same with photos, video, and so forth. We had readers and fans sending us dozens of pictures and telling us where we needed to go to get the best stories.

We had so much usable information. It would have taken a staff five times our size to provide that same information if we could have gotten it at all. Throughout the night and into the following days, not only did we meet the traditional demands of our readers, many have said that we exceeded all expectations of coverage for this type of event, and the kudos keep coming in.

Our fan base has now exceeded 3,450 fans and continues to grow each day since that tragic event. This social media platform provides thousands of new readers/fans information by linking to our traditional website each day — certainly page views that bring us actual dollars.

Media companies must provide content where the readers and viewers congregate. Media companies can ill afford to overlook the content value associated with the utilization of the various social media platforms. We saw firsthand the value it can provide, both in information and dollars when used to the fullest. While the dollar realization may not make the company accountant do cartwheels down the hallway, the information value in this single case was worth thousands.

Harnessing all the various forms of content delivery is paramount to our future. Do so, and we win. Fail to do so, and we lose.