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Texan Tourist, Trapped In UK Bookstore, Saved By Twitter

Waterstones Under The Bridge

Occasionally, internet dwellers remind us that social media is more than just a tool to allow desperate trolls their fifteen tweets of infamy. Sometimes, we get lucky enough to hear about something that makes us smile - instead of just leaving us shaking our respective heads about the future of mankind. Today, I'm pleased to report on the internet's latest tale of feel-goodery, and it comes from the most unlikely of sources: an empty Waterstones store in central London. Or, at least, a central London Waterstones that should have been empty.

Just after nine last Thursday, David Willis, a Dallas, Texas resident holidaying in England’s capital, walked downstairs in the Waterstones store in which he was watching an author write a book (or whatever reason people still go to bookstores now we have the internet). But instead of the welcome site of an open door leading to a grim London night-time street, he was greeted with this:

Unbeknownst to Willis, store workers had assumed the place was empty and shut up shop for the night, leaving him trapped. So he did what anyone in his situation with a device capable of calling the police would do: he turned to Twitter for help.

His initial tweet, which was to Waterstones' social media team, adorably ended with "Please let me out". This first contact has since received 12k retweets and over 8k favourites, and I like to think that after he'd sent it he sat cross-legged on the floor, stared at the door and patted himself on the back for a job well done. When all you have is 3G and a smartphone, what else can you do?

Due to Willis making the tweet public, it quickly gained traction. Soon, thousands were following his tale of woe, (im)patiently waiting for updates.

But it didn't all go to plan. Willis was unaware that a few hours earlier, Waterstones’ social media team had tweeted their last message of the day. They were now safely tucked up in their beds, and weren't set to return until 9am the next morning. Cue mass panic, and thousands of Twitter users campaigning to free Willis. No-one knew if Waterstones' social media marketing team would ever see his plea, or if they'd care enough to help (it was past 5:30; it wasn't their problem anymore). Would Willis be freed before he was forced to eat his own thumbs?

Two hours later, Waterstones’ Twitter account finally announced Willis' rescue. Cue sighs of relief, retweets of satisfaction and a confirmation tweet from the man himself, which has been shared by thousands.
The story shows the ability of social media to capture the public’s imagination in ways that simply weren’t possible before. In the space of a few short hours, an unknown tourist became a household name (at least to the Twitter-literate). It also goes to show that, for the most part, people like seeing the internet used as a tool for good. Although he was far from a celebrity or a person of interest, social media gave Willis’ plight tonnes of exposure, and Twitter's users did all they could to help grab Waterstones’ attention. Dozens even contacted the police to try and help.

While he would have eventually made it out without the help of the internet, Mr. Willis’ story would never have become such a public talking point without the communal atmosphere of Twitter. From Waterstones’ perspective, it’s also a good example of how to turn public attention into great marketing. By dealing with the situation in the way they did, and sorting it in such a good-humoured way, Waterstones used social media to hugely improve their public perception without spending a penny.

Not bad, considering they weren't meant to come back online until 9am the next day.

Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Texan Tourist, Trapped In UK Bookstore, Saved By Twitter Reviewed by Anonymous on Monday, October 20, 2014 Rating: 5
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