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What I Learned About Facebook While Witnessing Hurricane Sandy Up Close

By November 2, 2012July 16th, 2014In The News
What I Learned About Facebook While Witnessing Hurricane Sandy Up Close

When I say I grew up at the Jersey Shore, that doesn’t mean I visited every weekend during the summer. I lived there.

I lived in Brick until my mid-20s, minutes from the beaches and boardwalks of Pt. Pleasant, Manasquan, Seaside Heights and Belmar. My parents still live in the house they bought when I was three years old.

sandytreeIt was always a big day when my family went to the boardwalk to go on the rides, play games, eat pizza and play on the beach. When I was in high school and college, that’s where a lot of my friends and I hung out and got summer jobs. I proposed to my wife on an empty beach on a rainy, spring afternoon. Now, I bring my wife and daughter there from Mercer County whenever I can.

I’m not one who gets freaked out by storms, but when those Hurricane Sandy winds kicked up, they made my house vibrate. We escaped with a few hours of no power, a piece of siding and a few roof shingles blown off the house, and some fallen branches in the yard.

We were lucky. Very lucky.

When I see and hear about what’s going on where I grew up – people who still can’t return home because their neighborhoods have been turned upside down – it’s still kind of hard to fathom. It’s gut-wrenching to see the devastation in these areas.

Some of these places will never be the same. Some are completely gone.

sandymanasquanDuring the hours leading up to the storm, I was glued to CNN, News 12 New Jersey and local radio stations, watching and listening to reports from places like Atlantic City, Pt. Pleasant and Asbury Park. By the way, hats off to my friends and former colleagues in local radio who camped out at their stations for days and put themselves in harm’s way to keep people informed. Radio stations don’t close due to bad weather. They thrive, and this was no exception.

As Sandy really began to wreak havoc on the Jersey Shore, and I wanted to know what was happening with family and friends in specific communities and neighborhoods, I became glued to Facebook.

This is where people were sharing information about power outages, evacuations, transformer fires and floods. This is where people were making sure their loved ones were okay. This is where people in other parts of the country offered support, encouragement and prayers.

The photos in this post were all shared by my Facebook friends.

sandyfloodAs I checked for updates in my news feed, I started to think about why people use Facebook – to communicate, share, stay in touch and stay informed. During times of crisis, the urge to do these things is amplified and takes on a much more serious tone.

While pictures of kids and pets, political rants and “what I’m having for dinner” posts were being replaced by flood warnings and photos of damage, I kept coming back to one word that describes why people really were on Facebook – comfort.

People took comfort in knowing that their friends and family were okay. People were comforted when they learned if they could go somewhere to get gas or a generator, or which hotels had vacancies in case of an evacuation.

Even when the news was bad, there was a certain comfort level that came with being aware of what was happening. Knowing is always better than not knowing.

A lot of people took comfort in a good sense of humor during a tough time. I thought the images of Frankenstein emerging from the surf and the shark swimming in flood waters near someone’s house – and the fact that many people thought the shark photo was actually real – were pretty funny.

Sometimes it’s comforting just to be able to share your story, know you’ve been heard, and then listen to someone else’s story and know you’re in the same boat.

Is there some kind of marketing-related takeaway from this? Jeez, I don’t know.

Yes, this is a marketing blog, but I hate to turn a situation like this into a marketing lesson. I think it’s just a matter of stepping back, or stepping in, and understanding why people use Facebook.

Before you use Facebook for business, think about how you use Facebook as a real person. Think about what really matters to people. Think about how you can solve someone’s problem, make someone’s life better, or just make someone laugh. Think about how you can help someone, and not just in a crisis.

sandywiresWhen someone takes comfort in what you have to say, that’s a pretty powerful thing.

Last week on Twitter, a very prominent figure with a national following tweeted, “I can’t remember the last time I found Facebook to be useful.” I guess it really depends on what you’re using Facebook for.

Leading up to, during, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Facebook has been a major source of comfort for millions of people on a lot of different levels. As a means of communication, Facebook did what it’s capable of doing every day.

In this case, the communication was just a lot more serious and relevant.

So was Facebook.

To find out how you can help people affected by Hurricane Sandy, not just in New Jersey but throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States, visit the Hurricane Sandy page of the American Red Cross website.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • clarestweets says:

    People first. Business second. Always. Thanks Scott and Big Kudos to Carol Lynn for getting this out against big odds!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Clare,

      Definitely. And when you put people first, business will follow. It’s just amazing how people are using Facebook as a way of coping with and overcoming a crisis. We have a long way to go though.


  • Ann Laurie says:

    This is the first I can access internet through my wireless devices since Monday at 4pm. Although still without power, I appreciate how fortunate we have fared in the wake of such a devastating storm. Thank you Scott for reminding us all that there is another side to Facebook.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Ann,

      Glad you’re at least somewhat reconnected. I guess a situation like this really puts things in perspective – and shows how Facebook can be helpful in “real life.”


  • clarestweets says:

    And so glad we have FB and social sharing to act as our own community in crisis and not rely only on broadcast media.

  • Lisa Kanda says:

    Scott – your words are what I’ve been thinking this week. Facebook has been my lifeline this past week. I am still without power in Long Branch and have taken refuge at a friend’s house who has power. It’s gotten too cold to stay at home. I also feel very lucky that the impact to me is minor compared to those who lost everything. Our roof can be repaired and power will come back eventually. Glad to hear you are well.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Glad to hear you’re doing okay, too, relatively speaking. I almost feel guilty saying that I escaped pretty much unscathed, and I’m amazed more and more as I notice the uprooted trees around the corner from my house.

      As for Facebook, this is the first time I couldn’t turn it off. I use it like everyone else, but “lifeline” is a very accurate description for a lot of people. For all the grief Facebook gets, it’s been showing its value during the past week.


  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Scott,

    I know that if you live or lived in that area that was hit then just wanting to know what the heck is going on is a huge comfort. I guess this is one of the first times I can actually say I’m glad I live in Texas. Or maybe I should say, I’m glad Sandy didn’t decide to come our way.

    I’ve been through my share of hurricanes and Ike was our last really really bad one. I know how it is not knowing if your loved ones or okay or seeing how your old neighbor fared through this type of storm. That’s where Facebook really has come in handy and I’m glad everyone is willing to help out with this type of information.

    Glad you weren’t in the middle of it and all is well with your immediate family. I wish Mother Nature wasn’t so hard on us sometimes.


    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      This kind of communication, especially during a crisis, has moved from traditional media and phone calls to social media, especially Facebook. It’s instant, hyper local and supremely relevant. Now we’re seeing the value of having a trillion users (or whatever it is now).

      Thanks for the kind thoughts. Unfortunately, Mother Nature gave us another backhanded slap with last night’s snowstorm. Let’s just hope these things don’t come in threes.


  • Hi Scott,

    Those photos look scary indeed, and I think that it’s great that they were shared on Facebook for those who were far away from this disaster like me.

    I know I’ve been thinking about some of my online friends who I know are living in the North East and used facebook to ask them if they were OK. Carol was one of them 🙂

    I’m glad you guys made it OK and are back online. Thank you for sharing all this.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      HI Sylviane,

      The photos are scary and the sound of that wind was scary. I never heard anything like it. Yes, Carol Lynn’s area was hit harder than mine, especially from a power outage perspective.

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  • Gary Brush says:

    I am a little late in reading this, but great article Scott. I agree with you and others that during this crisis, Facebook was more helpful with communications that its founders could ever have imagined.
    There were several days for my family where FB was the only contact with the outside world: wireline telephone service down, NJ1015 off the air, voice channels on the cellular networks clogged,etc. So intermittent slow access to the cellular data network to use FB was very helpful and comforting. We were very fortunate and thankful that we did not suffer major damage to property or person as thousands of others did. Nontheless, with no heat, no light, no running water, and a disabled child requiring special attention, it was starting to get pretty scary. And the mis-information flowing around about how long it was going to restore power, serious permanent damage to the infrastructure, churches being used as morgues in Staten Island……..
    To get factual FB updates from real people that we know and trust about what was going on, was there indeed progress being made in restoring power, where was gasoline available, etc. was very comforting and helpful to us, and certainly many others as well.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Gary. Just like we prefer to do business with people we like and trust, we prefer to get information from people we like and trust. What would this have been like five years ago? 10 years ago? With Facebook, we get that information in real time. It’s definitely more about sharing pet photos, lame quotes and check-ins from restaurants 🙂