By Adam Dickter / CIO Today. Updated October 30, 2012.
As the hurricane believed to be one of the worst storms in history barreled toward the East Coast on Monday -- with winds up to 85 mph and waves as high as 30 feet in some areas -- Facebook's Talk Meter, which measures connectivity on the site, rose to 7.12 (on a scale of 1-10), compared with 5.93 on Friday and 6.7 over the weekend.
That's just one of the signs that millions of people, in addition to making sure they had enough food, batteries and bottled water, were making sure to keep enough juice in their mobile devices.
Fall of the Paywall
That way, even if the power went out they could update their status and share photos, videos and humor with friends via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube through the magic of 3G and 4G data networks. Because in 2012, social media connection has shifted from a pastime to a necessity.
"I think people are grateful for the connection social media affords at a time like this," Rebecca Lieb, a digital advertising and media analyst at the Altimeter Group, told us. "Sharing news, checking in with friends and family -- so many people are shut in."
Lieb noted that as a public service, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal dropped the paywall on their sites during the storm period to allow unfettered access. "This provides more information to more people, but also encourages people to find and share their content," she said.
Naturally, #Sandy was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter Monday, as was #FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and #staysafe.
Twitter also posted resources for keeping up to date on storm information with recommended accounts to follow in the states affected by the storm and directions on getting tweets via text message, and setting text alerts via computer in case the power goes out later.
But turning lemons to lemonade seemed just as important as sharing vital information about evacuations and the storm's course. People shared photos of downed trees and flooding but also poked fun at the situation.
A popular meme was Photoshopped images of the Statue of Liberty, seen cowering behind its pedestal, or holding down its dress Marilyn Monroe-style, or being swamped in CGI scenes from the 2004 disaster flick "The Day After Tomorrow."
Rise of 'Frankenstorm'
There were also doctored weather maps indicating in which zones people were "totally screwed" and in which they should simply "start drinking."
Facebook's Global Disaster Relief Page was updated throughout the storm and a spokesman, Devon Corvasce, told us by e-mail that mentions of the terms Hurricane Sandy and "Frankenstorm" rose 1 million percent during the crisis, while hurricane rose 21,962 percent and Sandy rose 6,578 percent.
Popular hashtags on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, included #sandy, with 180,000 photos, and #hurricanesandy, with 100,000 photos, Corvasce said. #Frankenstorm had 20,000 photos.
Women were slightly more likely than men to be posting and chatting about the storm, at 7.18 compared with 7.07 for men on the Talk Meter.
Buzz about the storm was highest in New Jersey, at 8.12, compared with 8.09 in Connecticut, 7.97 in the District of Columbia, 7.72 in New York, 7.75 in Pennsylvania and 7.69 in New Hampshire.
"It's important to note that all of these Talk Meter figures are very high on Facebook, " Corvasce said.