As residents continue to evacuate or clean-up the devastated Texas and Louisiana coasts following Hurricane Ike last week, it’s hard not to notice the growing use of social media in our everyday lives.
Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, CNN iReports and complete social Web sites now pop-up every time a natural disaster hits. But how are people really using these sites?
As I evacuated from New Orleans last month with Hurricane Gustav approaching, I visited the Hurricane Gustav Twitter and Facebook groups, mostly out of curiosity. But when I really needed information I turned to my normal trusted news sites. Now, as Texans are experiencing one of the largest power-outages in U.S. history, it is unlikely they are utilizing much social media. My guess is they would prefer FEMA’s food and shelter over their new MySpace widget.
However, many social media applications are effectively helping recovery efforts during this hurricane and flooding season. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Mobilizing volunteers. The Red Cross has a well-run Twitter account, with a strong following and a separate blog site specifically for Hurricane Ike. The United Way of Central Texas and hundreds of other bloggers are also using their sites to provide volunteers information on what is needed and how to help.
The Hurricane Information Center. A social network created through the growing Ning Web site, which allows anyone to build an entire social network for anything from WD-40 fans to wine enthusiasts. The site pulls together all information into one place—weather reports, breaking news, important links and your social network essentials- forums, chat and video/photo sharing. This site is especially useful because it combines news and links from reliable agencies with personal thoughts, suggestions and questions.
Iowa Floods. Another all-in-one resource site created by a Des Moines consulting firm, 48Web. Created in early June in response to the extensive and devastating floods in Iowa, the site captures all flood-related online communications in one place- Twitter, YouTube, blogs, Flikr and general news. The site became a popular resource for residents in the Iowa area and is yet another great example on how social media is transforming and being used most efficiently and effectively in times of need.