Because I am lucky enough to work for SME Digital, I have the opportunity to work shift, this means I work wherever I am. So, most times, I am at home in my home office. Other times, I am in a hotel office, either way, I have the luxury to work wherever I happen to be. Earlier this month, I was at home when a surprisingly large storm system went rolling through Columbus, Ohio. The storm was a whopping 10 minutes of 80 mph wind and sideways rain. It was a gorgeous storm, really. But my suburb in Columbus, Bexley, is the nation’s first city to earn a designation as an arboretum, so naturally we have a few trees. And because of these beauties of oxygen creation, we also had no power for a few days. It happens.
But, in our hyper connected world, a power outage in a relatively small town can cause quite a kerfuffle. People immediately take to their phones, tweet and call the power company. And despite the fact that more than 50,000 people are without power in Columbus, every community thinks they need to be first. I even tweeted the power company at the end to call #dibs on the next power outage since Bexley was last this time. Others take to Facebook to share their inconvenience with the world. Heck, even some create memes of their first world problem of enduring a power outage. But, here in Bexley, things are a little different. Enter the mayor of our little town.
As soon as the storm had gone, our mayor took to Facebook and the city’s blog to update the community on the city’s plans to activate crews and encourage everyone to call the power company. He also created a Google doc for people to enter in their location in an effort to lobby the power company to get over to Bexley first. They didn’t, but that isn’t the story. The story is that by using digital and social media, the mayor of a small town was able to communicate with the town in real time and gather information quickly to take action. Social and digital media are real time. People in the community know that if they want information, they visit the blog and Facebook to get that information and share back more information. Because this is social media and a dialog, anyone can comment on the mayor’s post with details on their situation. They can notify the city, in real time, that they need a crew to get a tree of their house.
You see social media is not just an avenue to over-share about your lunch, or post another picture of your baby. It is a communication platform. Anyone can share in real time and that community can then share information back. For example, when the storm hit, the mayor let the community know that crews were called up and are on duty to clear trees immediately. Within 5 minutes a resident let the mayor know that a city tree was down on his home. The mayor was able to immediately get the crew over to help the resident. Amazing. No other medium in the history of humankind has been able to do this.
As the situation progressed, the mayor made sure that everyone knew what was happening with the power company, encouraging them to call again as well as letting everyone know that the local library had power via a generator and if anyone needed to re-charge or use a computer, head on over. As temperatures and tempers started to flare, another notice was posted that the community pool offered all residents without power a free opportunity to cool off in the pool. All of this was learned via social media.
Over time, wonderful stories were shared of people driving by with a chainsaw to help clear a road. Neighbors helping move logs, getting cars out from under 300-year-old oaks, it went on and on. All of this made me feel really good about where I live, all because someone had the good sense to get in the social game and take it seriously. The punch line to this story is that the mayor and his family were in EUROPE on vacation (ssshhh! Don’t tell). Social media removes borders and oceans and allows people to stay connected despite distance.
There is no larger forum than social media to communicate and build community. And what’s remarkable to me is that a small town like Bexley has figured out how best to use social media to grow community and engage citizens, even the grumpy ones who do a lot of complaining in times like these.