Utilities rely on social for outreach about Sandy

NEW YORK: Following Hurricane Sandy, which left millions without power and public transportation, social media played a key communications role, executives said at the PRWeek Conference on Wednesday.

NEW YORK: Following Hurricane Sandy, which left millions without power and public transportation, social media played a key communications role, executives said at the PRWeek Conference on Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down all of its trains and buses in New York City before the storm, and then had to fix the flooded subway tunnels and roads. Adam Lisberg, the director of external communications for the MTA, said social media efforts were a major part of the organization's communications strategy in keeping passengers informed on transit updates.

The MTA leveraged Twitter by posting maps of subway trains that were running throughout the week of the storm, said Lisberg. Flickr and YouTube also played a role with the agency posting photos and videos of the flooding and of workers trying to fix the issues.

He added that radio and TV news updates were also important PR tools for the MTA.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the eponymous agency, said his headquarters, which is located in one of New York's flood and power outage zones, was tasked with figuring out ways to work with clients despite its server being down.

After the storm, the agency's Washington DC digital team created a private Facebook page to connect with staffers. It was designed to help employees engage each other and offer spare bedrooms to those without power.

The firm also sent out a survey to its employees to ask if they'd be interested in working at a remote location. The results led to the opening of workstations at hotels in White Plains, Brooklyn, and Midtown, Edelman said.

Fred Kuebler, director of media relations at National Grid, said the company began developing a comprehensive plan four days before the storm hit so communities were engaged early. The plan included deploying National Grid staffers in towns and cities to connect with local officials, he said.

He added that National Grid tasked MSLGroup with helping to handle communications efforts.

The agency served as a communications “force enabler,” Kuebler said, and helped keep the PR plans moving forward after the storm.

Kuebler also noted that the company could not help the government-run Long Island Power Authority with its efforts at first because of a management services agreement. The second week of November, he said LIPA requested help with is communications process. 

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