Social networking has had a number of inflection points in its short history – markers in time where so many people have discovered the value of their networks and the platforms on which they are built and maintained. The list includes the 2008 Presidential election, the evening we learned of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and, although less critically, almost every award show on television over the last two-to-three years.
History may show, however, that the period tied to Hurricane Sandy may be one of the biggest events thus far for shaping how we think, feel and use social networks. If this proves to be true, it will be because so many of us were engaged in social, so frequently, for such a concentrated period of time, regarding a matter that meant so much. #Sandy may be the moment when Social grew up.
We used social networks for so many reasons during that week. For clarity, it might be helpful to inventory them in one place – this blog post.
#1: Second Screen Discovery Engine
For those of us who had electricity during the storm, social networks made for an excellent compliment to television. While our broadcast networks of choice were deploying their full force of 5-10 correspondents and camera crews, the information we derived from social media reached far further. If you had 200 Facebook friends living in affected areas, you essentially had 200 reporters one the scene. While they may not be trained journalists, they were certainly expert eyewitnesses. And, the scope of communication was not even limited to the size of our own friend-base – it extended to their friends and beyond. Reports came flying in from all over reach of the storm: the river is crossing over Greenwich Street, there’s 3 feet of water in my building on 23rd Street, we just lost power on the Lower East Side.
#2: Replacement for Traditional Media
The pictures, videos and stories we were getting directly from those experiencing the storm were more personal and immediate than anything we were receiving through traditional channels. In many ways, what was the purpose of a traditional news outlet that essentially just acted like a filter for the real thing? Further, when cable and Internet went out, those channels were useless. But, if one could conserve enough phone juice (or find a place to plug in), social networks were the best source for news and information.
#3: Search Tool
Twitter was an especially good resource during the storm due to the searchable nature of the platform. In the early going, queries for #Sandy revealed updates on the storm’s path and allowed us to commiserate with others around our nerves and anxieties. At the height of the storm, concerned people were searching for information on specific neighborhoods to get eyewitness accounts from #Breezypoint or #Avalon. In the days since, we have been able to get through the short term fuel shortage by searching for those tweeting about open gas stations with hastags such as #NJgas and #LIhasgas. I benefitted from the reach of Twitter by finding a gas station open at 10PM Saturday night that was only 5 miles away with a relatively short 15 car wait – no small feat. Google offered a number of tools that helped as well including a Crisis Map that relied on citizen crowd sourcing.
#4: Primary Form of Communication
Forget just being a source of news and information, when the power did go out for millions of people, social networks replaced e-mail and battery-draining phone calls as a primary form of communication. Without landlines and Internet connections, people across the region turned to their smartphones. Social networks became one of the ways in which we connected with others to share that our offices were closed or tell friends that could use a place to sleep. For many, this became their main connection to the world.
#5: Call To Action
Finally, social networks became a place where critical causes were given a voice. On Friday, the drum was beating loudly for the annual New York City marathon to be cancelled. Mayor Bloomberg wanted to keep the event as a milestone towards recovery, but louder voices emerged from people feeling the marathon was an insensitive drain on resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Those points-of-view were expressed throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter. The Mayor’s office must have been listening to the dialogue because the event was called-off at about 5PM, a little more than 36-hours before the start of the race.
Of course, some of those same voices have also used social platforms to alert friends and followers to volunteer efforts going on across the region. So many people have connected to victims we have never met through their personal stories, attached to appeals for help, and communicated through intermediaries – the people within our own social networks.
The adage “you learn better by doing” applies to the experiences of millions of people who experienced Hurricane Sandy. The week we spent with the both storm and our social networks have taught many – and deepened the affinity of others – of the virtues of these channels.
There are so many ways to get involved with time or resources. Please give what you can to your causes of choice. I could not end a blog post about how social networks have helped us through this storm without offering just one more pathway for people to take action. Here is one that deserves our attention: https://www.wepay.com/donations/in-good-company-hospitality-relief-fund