The Social Media Storm: Hurricane Sandy

lessons from our LAB

November 1, 2012

The Social Media Storm: Hurricane Sandy

Our Digital Scientists are made up of tech-loving, results-oriented, passionate, digital marketing nerds who have an unnatural obsession with all things digital. Most likely seen glued to a screen and spewing new digital marketing trends.

As some of you may know from reading my introductory blog a few months back, I just moved to Scottsdale from Rockland, NY, a county 10 miles north of Manhattan in the Lower Hudson River Valley. And as I’m sure all of you know, the northeast was hit extremely hard by the monstrosity of a storm fitting for a time around Halloween, Hurricane Sandy. I have around 30-40 family members that live in the same area and it has been hard to contact them since the storm has passed, but social media has saved me, along with millions of others and maybe even yourself, from some worry.

Before the storm hit, social media platforms were filled with images of humorous jabs at Hurricane Sandy. But as Sandy made her presence felt even before land fall, with heavy winds foreshadowing the days to come, those humorous posts began to change. That’s when normal, everyday people became the news reporters and the journalists, and news began to spread faster through social media rather than on television. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took to Twitter before the storm and for updates after the storm.

When I wasn’t calling my family I was checking my Facebook and Instagram. I began to see statuses like “If my app is telling the truth, we are all in trouble, stay safe everyone” and friends’ pictures of trees bending in the wind and some of the Hudson River invading properties, rising by the minute even before it started raining. Initially, when people lost power, they relied on their smart phones before the service went out, endlessly expressing their thanks for their existence, going out to their car to charge them so they could have some sort of civilized feeling and feel like they were connected to the rest of the world. The CEO of Instagram Kevin Systrom mentioned that “10 photos of Hurricane Sandy were being shared every second.”

People in New York City were getting updates and some even found out about the mandatory evacuation on Twitter and subsequently shared the news on their Facebook accounts. Google quickly enhanced their map feature, sending out warnings and updates about the inclement weather. 

Then it all stopped.

Everyone lost power and cell phone service. That’s when social media and news hubs stepped up their game and kept informing the rest of the world. Buzzfeed’s website went down in the storm, but their presence remained, utilizing social media to continuously update the public and even using their page as their temporary new site while they still could.

Cell phone service is sporadic now, depending on where you travel and it’s during those random moments that you see updates from your closest friends and family, those “Temporary Journalists,” posting pictures of the aftermath and that is where you get to experience the horror on your own, seeing your favorite places under water, with boats inside houses, sand filling the street, looking as if the area was just one big ocean and houses just happened to be in it.

Social Media brings a community together. On the first night, a father of two and retired NYPD officer in my area was killed by a fallen tree that landed in his family room where he was waiting out Sandy. Within minutes, you saw the impact of social media. Everyone heard, those who still had power found out through Facebook, where within minutes there was a support page created. The news of the Breezy Point, Queens fire that engulfed over 50 houses, was trending on Facebook and chains of people were sharing a link to a donation fund website to assist in the recovery process.

So you can sit here and think about how we learn about events like natural disasters and topics like presidential candidates without watching the television and simply by just looking on Twitter, Facebook, etc and compare it to the last five years or so. The last major natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, was during a time where applications like Instagram weren't popular and as highly functioning, Facebook was still just a page for college students to remain connected with their hometown friends, social media was nowhere near what it is now. The images that are shared become more powerful then the words of a news reporter detailing the event on television where there's always that untimely commercial break, instead social media provides a constant chain of flowing events.

Are you part of the growing trend that prefers social media over television? Let us know how social media has helped you become informed about crucial events in your life. I know, for me, if it wasn't for Facebook and Instagram, I'd have a hard time coping with not knowing.

We wish everyone in the northeast continued safety and a speedy recovery.

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