What I Learned About Facebook While Witnessing Hurricane Sandy Up Close

By November 2, 2012 July 16th, 2014 In 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.