As Hurricane Sandy approached the US in October last year hundreds of thousands of people used social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to keep abreast of the storm. When the dust settled, people turned to those networks again to follow recovery efforts and find out transport information.
At the second day of social media week in New York on Wednesday representatives from Con Edison, MTA and JetBlue gathered to discuss their interactions with people through the storm and how that had changed their practices after Sandy moved on.
Michael Clendenin, director of media relations at Con Edison, said the @ConEdison Twitter handle that the company had only set up in June gained an extra 16,000 followers over the storm. He was also able to clarify that the much-shared “explosion” that happened at the company’s 14th street power plant in Manhattan, was not actually an explosion.
“It was more of a flash”, Clendenin said. “It was a power relay that went out.” He said “that piece of equipment never blew up”.
Video footage of the intensely bright light flaring close to the East River Park was one of the most shared items as the storm battered Manhattan. Clendenin said the 25 videos Con Ed posted during the few days before and after the storm were viewed more than 100,000 times, while the images it posted to Flickr got 140,000 hits.
“The most important thing we gained from all of this is people notice someone is paying attention”, Clendenin said during the panel discussion at the offices of Affect, a New York-based public relations and social media company.
“It gives people at least some kind of satisfaction.”
Aaron Donovan, media liaison at the MTA, said the agency had focussed on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in its Sandy response, but noted that “Twitter had the broadest pick up in a very immediate way”.
He said MTA employees were encouraged to take photos and video while they were out inspecting lines or surveying damage. Television media would pick up on those raw, unpolished videos and run them in broadcasts, Donovan said, while the photos were widely shared.
“The photos that we send out in real time are the photos that get the largest pick up. It’s more important to be timely than it is to be good quality,” Donovan said of the images MTA posted to its social accounts.
He said during the storm the MTA had a “round the clock” social media presence. “First to communicate changes to service then throughout the storm itself,” he said, but later to let people know what they are doing to update service.
Another lesson the MTA learned, Donovan said, was to pay attention to the information people were asking for.
“We have incoming tweets asking us questions all the time. We do not have the resources to respond to each and every questions all the time,” he said. Instead, “the incoming feed is almost as important as the outgoing feed”.
MTA would look at what people wanted to know – Donovan cited a lot of interest in when the G train would resume – and would “respond to everyone, rather than hitting each person back one by one”.
Thursday is the last day of Social Media Week, which is taking place in cities around the globe. The New York event is supported by the Guardian.
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