National disasters have always had a real knack for bringing people together, but social media has taken that concept to another level. Instead of simply uniting the masses physically and in spirit, the evolution of social media has paved the way for individuals to bond in real time. Social media was a clear go-to resource for victims in need of information and for citizen journalists wanting to document and share their experiences. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google all came in handy this past week. (But it seems as though much of the Hurricane Sandy coverage has been focused on the social media coverage itself. Meta, right?)
What isn’t being talked about much is how social media powerhouses proactively provided real aid, and not just in the form of dollar-sign donations. Two platforms in particular really stepped up to the plate this week by doing more than just being open for business.
One is Google. Google is still the ultimate way people find information and breaking news, and the social search giant made sure it was easy for users to weather the storm online. Formed in 2005 as a response to Hurricane Katrina, Google’s Crisis Response Team (seriously how cool is it that there is such a thing??) put their heads together to develop a real-time Hurricane Sandy map to track movement and aggregate the latest emergency info.
It’s an interactive map that allows you to follow the hurricane’s path through North America, while receiving evacuation notices, storm warnings, and other public alerts through the official U.S. government website. Even more detailed information such as storm footage, radar and cloud imagery, shelter location, and evacuation routes, are curated via Storyful.
Twitter was the other social kingpin that knew exactly how to make the biggest social media impact via their platform. The company offered free Promoted Crisis Tweets to Red Cross, FEMA, NYC Mayor’s Office, MDMEMA and many others emergency management and relief organizations. It looks as though Hurricane Sandy is joining the company’s hope140 social movement initiative, with the disaster being given its own Twitter page for optimal real-time coverage.
Twitter also used their blog to provide users and victims with information on which accounts and hashtags should be used for specific location based updates. The blog was a valuable resource for users who lost power or internet but needed to access Twitter for breaking and local news. It also explained how to use Twitter via SMS, something many of us have forgotten how to do with the ease and accessibility of apps and wifi.
It’s clear that having access to social media has revolutionized the way the world communicates during a crisis. But, it’s nice to know that the companies behind the platforms have the foresight to understand the power and saturation of their tools. Google and Twitter are examples of how social media is critical to thinking about ways to improve preparedness, process, accessibility and reach. Amongst the criticisms that social media sites are a frivolity consuming the American public one iPhone at a time, their effectiveness during Hurricane Sandy provides affirmation that their purpose far exceeds Jennifer Aniston pregnancy rumors.
Want to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy? Donate $10 toward Red Cross disaster relief here. Offer your room for free to hurricane refugees through AirBnb here. Or find opportunities to volunteer here.