As someone born and raised in NJ with a wife from Long Island, we have many friends and family in the affected areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. I’d like to share a few real life examples on how social technology can be used in a crisis to connect with people, share knowledge, crowd source problems and provide feedback. 

In the absence of electricity, everyone was forced to connect via mobile devices and share their stories and status on Facebook or Twitter. Both FEMA and the Red Cross even urged residents in the area to communicate via social media.


Communicating and sharing in social networks directly from the source provided more meaningful and valuable coverage than CNN could ever provide. 

Connecting with People

There’s no one more famous for using Twitter than the Mayor of Newark, NJ Corey Booker.  His mobile device and twitter account are key assets for getting his job done as mayor. Twitter proved to be his lifeline during the crisis as the Mayor leveraged social media to not only connect with residents but invite them over to his house for a meal. 


Sharing Knowledge

Here is another example of residents of one NJ town asking the Borough a question. Of course the answer didn't come from the town.  It came from other residents sharing knowledge about the best places to find gas rather than waiting in lines for 3 hours in parts of NJ. 


Crowd Sourcing Problems

Here’s an example of how a local government was working with the power company to crowd source issues around the availability of electricity.


Providing Feedback

No other part of the world is more direct in providing their opinions and feedback than residents of New York/New Jersey. There were many posts about the lack of assistance from those on Staten Island which eventually got the attention of local government, FEMA and CNN. And there were many posts about general frustrations about restoring power like this one:


When I see a post like the one above, I first checked ConEd on Twitter and Facebook. It's pretty clear ConEd is doing a great job of communicating to customers via social media (even though some residents like this one were unaware of that fact). However, the real frustration in this post was that the customer asked the ConEd field worker directly and received the typical “I don’t know” response. A better response would be to "check Facebook and Twitter."

Ideally, the field worker should have the ability to inquire internally about the status in the affected area and provide an answer to the customer directly on the spot. External social media is one thing, but you have to wonder if ConEd understands the value of investing in an internal social network to better communicate with its own workers in the field!!!  

ROI Requires a New Awareness

I spend a lot of my time talking to organizations about the value of social technology. More often than not, executives ask about the value in terms of dollars and cents. While I could dedicate an entire article on articulating economic value of social, the best and most meaningful results of social are really about being human. Connecting with people, crowd sourcing problems in a crisis, sharing knowledge and responding to feedback are all great examples.  

Both consumer social media and internally within an enterprise, people have a fundamental need to connect and communicate with each other, ask questions, inquire about ride sharing or office openings or simply deal with the human element of the event. There is no economic value that can be assigned to helping people as the real value of social is often intangible for businesses, government and individuals alike.  

Often times in a crisis, many people separate narrow beliefs and begin to understand things with a new awareness. Last week’s events in the New York/New Jersey area were indeed a life changing experience for many residents and businesses. And I hope this crisis brings a new awareness to the value of social technology both externally with customers and internally with workers.

So the next time your CEO or CFO ask about the ROI of social, send them this article and tell them the value of social isn’t always measured in dollars, but in common sense.