Aside from the terrible destruction from Hurricane Sandy, one of the things we learned from coverage of the storm was that channels such as Facebook and Twitter became important means for relaying and receiving information. Although electrical power was lost for an extended period in many places here in New Jersey and New York, town halls that either had backup generators or access to a cellular network were able to post storm status updates on their official Facebook and Twitter pages. Those who followed these sites were able to reply with additional information, such as if in a given town utility crews were working on a particular road, the town and its residents could have some indication or hope as to when their power might be restored. There were even reports on the news that some individuals who were in life-threatening situations because of the storm were able to reach emergency personnel either directly or through others as a result of social networking.
Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on October 29th. Twitter reports that between October 27th and October 31st, there were more than 20 million tweets about the storm. In essence, these individual tweets became an integral part of the reporting of this natural disaster. According to the Pew Research Center, "The largest share of this news and information, fully 34% of the Twitter discourse after the storm, involved news organizations providing content, government sources offering information, people sharing their own eyewitness accounts and still more passing along information posted by others." The importance of social media is also seen in another Pew report, which found that the top research tools students use include Google or similar search engines, Wikipedia, YouTube (which Google also owns), and one's peers.
Perhaps this is an indication of a megatrend. We are no longer just getting news updates from the major networks. It's not just Walter Cronkite delivering the news on CBS. Whether it is local, national, or global in scope, social media is now vital from both a marketing perspective and from the perspective of delivering important information to large or small groups. This will prove to be both a challenge in figuring out which audience to reach, as well as an opportunity to reach more diverse or targeted audiences than ever before.