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Hurricanes and Hyperlocal: Why Mobile and Social Are So Important

In college, I took a class titled Community Journalism. The class was a core in the curriculum but was in the middle of transitioning from how to write news with a local angle to how to write for hyperlocal news outlets and social media.

“This is the journalism of the future,” I remember Professor Edna Negrón preaching. As a veteran of The Record and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, she saw it coming and was aimed to prep students.

Boy was she right.

Every day people turn to Facebook and Twitter as their news sources. Other sites like Patch are aimed to give communities quick and efficient updates. While town-wide newspapers still exist, their news may be weeks old by the time it reaches the mailbox. There’s something not quite right about the cover story of the Community Reporter about the Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey a week after Sandy has destroyed parts of the Jersey Shore.

When Hurricane Sandy came barreling up the East Coast, millions tuned into local and national news channels. I flipped through channels to see who was covering the Jersey Shore – until the power went out.

The Mobile Device: A Necessity of Hurricane Sandy

As power went out, smartphones came on. Social media sites Facebook and Twitter became the key hubs for news.

Naturally, users turned to Facebook to check in on each other as well as to share information about how the conditions were and how they were doing through status updates. Without access to TV and the Internet, mobile devices with 3G and 4G became the only way to access news.

Once again, the Facebook page Jersey Shore Hurricane News came into play.

Originally created when New Jersey braced for Tropical Storm Irene last summer, the page has morphed into an outlet for local news, events and all things New Jersey. Once Sandy hit, the page became an essential player in survival. During the storm, users turned to the page to share photos, information on their communities, and even posts by people who didn’t evacuate and needed to be rescued.

In addition to this page and others like it, Facebook users shared photos and updated of their communities, shared links with information and tracked the damage and destruction. For days, all of the information and communication for many came from a small screen that was charged, most likely, by backup batteries and car chargers.

It’s no surprise that, as reported by CNN, the terms “Sandy,” “Hurricane Sandy,” and “Hurricane” were the most-used terms for Facebook users in the U.S. on Monday October 29, the day Sandy made landfall in New Jersey.Hurricane Sandy Ocean Grove Fishing Pier

Hyperlocal News and Blogs

Another way to stay connected in communities was local blogs and hyperlocal news outlets.

I live in a town with a frequently updated local blog and each day it was my outlet to see how my little seaside town weathered the storm. It was here that I learned that, thankfully, the majority of the town was standing. Pictures of the torn-up boardwalk and fishing pier without the clubhouse began to surface. These are just small examples of what was going on in my own community that wouldn’t make local news for all to see.

Hurricane Sandy Ocean GroveThe bloggers behind the site announced the website traffic a few days after the storm: on average, the site receives 1,500 hits. The Tuesday after the storm, the site had over 25,000 hits.

What We Can Learn from This

My iPhone allowed me to stay connected both during and after. Two years ago I would have been in the dark with no clue about Sandy’s effects outside my door.

It’s always said to be where your audience is. While this is important for any marketing message, it’s even more imperative in a time of need.

Lisa Salabritas

Lisa Salabritas is the Marketing Manager at PCG Digital Marketing. She believes that the best strategy for producing good content comes from Stephen King: “Read a lot, write a lot,” and the cure for everything is a day in the sun, preferably on the beach.

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