Businesses and Civilians Rely on Twitter during Sandy

Yesterday, I wrote about the rash decision of American Apparel to email bomb customers about a Hurricane Sandy Sale. Don’t worry; it was (and still is) a bad move by the company. But what about the millions of other people and the thousands of businesses who relied on Twitter and social media? How did they react to what is likely the worst storm to hit the East Coast?

We know exactly how they reacted thanks to Twitter and other social platforms. Millions of people relied on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Apps to communicate, learn news, and let friends and family know they were okay. Twitter even served as an alternative for reaching 911 when cell phones failed and a landline was nowhere in sight.

Twitter to the Rescue

Gerry Shih has written a great article for Reuters about how Twitter persisted throughout Sandy. Gerry writes, “millions of residents turned to Twitter as a part-newswire, part 911 hotline that hummed through the night” even though many websites went down and much of Manhattan was left without power.

Despite a few pranksters, most of what came through Twitter were legitimate safety concerns or requests for information. Many of us have heard about how influential Twitter was during the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. With Sandy, Twitter really showed how useful it can be when fully embraced.

I was amazed to learn how the Red Cross utilized Twitter and social media. Gerry Shih writes that the Red Cross had a “Digital Operations Center” with “six wall-mounted monitors [to] display a stream of updates from Twitter and Facebook and a visual heat map of where posts” were coming from. They used this information to determine where their resources were needed most.

Twitter also played its part by turning some of its ad-friendly services and upgrades into a source of emergency information. The #Sandy event page gathered hundreds of official and important tweets about Sandy and other emergency information. Twitter turned something they use to help businesses promote themselves to improve rescue efforts across the entire affected region.

Businesses Pushed Through with Twitter

If you think at all like me, you probably felt horrible seeing pictures of Manhattan flooded and the New Jersey coast hammered with waves and water. My thoughts quickly went to the small business owners who put their hearts and souls into their life’s work. It’s how they make a living, and just like that, it’s gone.

Sandy hit brick-and-mortar stores, as well as online businesses, hard. That didn’t stop some businesses in New York from keeping in touch with customers and showing the human side of their operations. Eric Markowitz for Inc writes, businesses “turned to Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch with customers and staff and the outside world.” Many data centers were hit by flooding causing many major websites to have problems or go down. These sites used Twitter and emergency update sites to continue their work and communicate with visitors. One taxi company in NYC used Twitter to inform citizens that they were in fact working while the entire subway is closed – a “silver lining” for one small business in the aftermath of Sandy.

The Beauty of Social Media

It’s amazing that social media – which often used for trivial things or hyped-up and focused on by businesses, marketers, and advertisers as this wonderful tool to make money – can also be used to save lives and make a difference. Social media allows businesses, especially small businesses, to communicate with others in a human way. It allows people to relate to a business on more than a commercial level. Not only is this good for business, but it’s good for our humanity.

It’s disasters like these that remind us that the cutthroat drive for profit and opportunity in the business world is not who we are deep down. Business is about human relationship and always has been. Hopefully, social media continues to affect our lives in better and unpredicted ways in the future. We should embrace its ability to help us and bring us closer together on a human level, in the business world and in the personal world. As the founder of Twitter tweeted yesterday, “Proud of Twitter right now.” I am too.

What do you think of social media’s role throughout Hurricane Sandy?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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