If your media habits are at all like mine, you got as much if not more of your news about Sandy yesterday from social media. Not only did the hashtag #Sandy dominate Twitter, providing an endless stream of updates from both media properties and individuals, Twitter itself created a page to serve as a content hub, sharing posts from officials, government agencies and media outlets.
You could isolate content by location – New York, Delaware, Massachusetts – or by type. There were hashtags on Twitter for #SandyNY, #SandyMA and others, and on Instagram for #SandyNY, easily filtered by searching in Instagrid.me.
If phone lines were tied up you found out if friends and family were OK from their status updates on Facebook. On Twitter utilities posted outages and expected repair times. On Instagram media of all sorts crowd sourced images from neighborhoods and streets. For most of the day the front page of the New York Times featured posts and re-tweets from its Metro account.
It’s not as if social media will replace the depth and analysis of the best traditional media, but it has certainly elevated itself to a point where it is an essential tool for staying informed. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account or have one and never posted, the #Sandy page was among your best sources of content for events as significant as yesterday’s storm. It showed you a broad swath of coverage, gave you instant access to a wealth of information, and allowed you to find and consume what mattered most to you.
My guess is that Sandy will attract more users to Twitter and Instagram and encourage more active participation from those still reluctant to share and post. And while both platforms have become an integral part of how traditional media gathers and distributes news, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more users start with the platforms, allowing the posts they see there to send them to a source.
Sandy may have been devastating for millions. But it will be very good for social media.