Prof. Sree Sreenivasan (@sree) invited me to speak at the Social Media One Night Stand at Columbia School of Journalism on May 16th. Here is the text of my speech about winning a Shorty Award for connecting my community using social media during Hurricane Sandy.
If you follow me on Twitter (@KathyZucker), you will see that most of my tweets come through at 4am. I have three children under the age of six, and that’s when I am awake.
I am a third-generation New Yorker. I moved to Hoboken, NJ because it’s so close to NYC, you have the 24-hour PATH train and you got a lot more space for your money. It took a really huge mental adjustment to move to New Jersey, but once I was here, I never wanted to leave. There are a ton of young families in Hoboken because people move here for the bars and restaurants, meet and have a kid. Everybody tries to stay as long as they can, hanging on for another year or two because it’s so convenient, but eventually they leave because there are almost no large apartments and the schools aren’t great.
80% of families are dual income, with two working parents. I am on every parenting listserv in the Hoboken area. HobokenMoms, Jersey City Family Initiative, NewportMommy, and over the years, I’ve accrued a lot of information about parenting in the Hoboken area, I am basically the parenting encyclopedia of Hoboken. People reach out to me when they need help figuring out which preschool to choose, or are looking for the inside scoop on a daycare. I have a following of about 7,000 readers. I never intended to become the hurricane encyclopedia, but you know, you roll with what life throws at you.
I stayed in Hoboken last year for Hurricane Irene, and that is when I did all the research on hurricanes in this area. I am a speed reader, and when I am facing a stressful situation, I start reading to figure out what I am dealing with. I reached out to every possibly helpful connection, like the developer of my building, to find out stuff like the historic 100 year flood mark. I had no idea what I was dealing with – would the waters reach the third floor where I live? It turns out the 100 year mark is about knee high in my garage, so we stayed. And Irene turned out to not be very bad – my building didn’t flood.
Hurricane Sandy looked identical to Irene. Full moon, high tide, storm systems combining. When I woke up at 4 am on the morning of October 29th, I booted up Twitter, lying in bed with my tablet, and started looking at pictures coming in from the waterfront. The water was chest-high along the railing, and the Lackawanna train terminal courtyard was flooded. I thought, “This looks really bad, much worse than Irene.”
Then my husband woke up, and we argued for about three hours about moving the car. Because that was the place where I could really get hurt, my car could flood in the garage. He kept saying, “Don’t move it, it wasn’t a big deal last year, I want to have the car here to charge my cellphone.” He went to take a nap, and I looked at my babysitter and said, “Bye!”
After I moved my car and bought a backup battery power supply, I went online to Twitter and all my groups and sent out an SOS saying, “MOVE YOUR CARS!” I had about six hours before Hoboken went into lockdown, with no cars in or out. I spent that time getting my building ready for the hurricane and setting up an SMS text messaging group using a service called GroupMe.
Sandy turned out to be much worse than I expected. Hoboken was underwater for three days and without power for a week. During that time, the GroupMe group turned out to be a godsend. People turned off their cellphones to conserve power, and they would turn their phones on for a minute, have my updates scroll down, and then turn their phones off. I was sharing information I got from Twitter like, “the National Guard is in town,” and “the water is safe to drink.” I was also able to get information that people sent on GroupMe out on Twitter, like “There’s a tree resting on wires at First and Adams,” – the phone lines and cellular services were down, so the city came and took care of those issues because of my tweets.
The six members of the Metro Moms Network team nominated me for a Keep Good Going Shorty Award sponsored by New York Life, and a bunch of people came out to vote for me, saying stuff like, “I couldn’t have survived Sandy without Kathy.” So that’s how I won a Shorty Award.
How can you setup a group in your community like I did? Look at where people congregate. For me, that is school dropoff. You have a lot of babysitters doing school pickup, but it’s almost always parents doing morning dropoff. People will hang around outside for 5-10 minutes, and you can talk and get to know them. I always learn from everybody – if you keep an open mind, you will learn really interesting things that are totally unexpected, usually in the last five minutes of a conversation. When I know what people are looking for, then I keep that information in the back of my mind, because sooner or later I encounter someone who needs their skills. I am a connector – putting people together is like a big jigsaw puzzle.
You should also share information. Whenever there’s something in your life that makes you say, “Wow!” then chances are somebody else will also find it useful. That is how you establish your expertise, by consistently sharing information. I began blogging as a way to keep my career alive. I used to be a marketing director in finance and then at a hospital, and I started staying home when I was pregnant with my oldest child. My husband’s job started getting more intense, with longer hours and travel, and we looked at each other and said,” We can’t both work 60 hours a week, we’ll never see this kid.” So we switched roles. I was the primary breadwinner for the first 10 years of our relationship, and then my career went on the back burner.
Social media has been amazing. I have been offered jobs in the last month, and it’s all based on the fact that I am out there, learning and doing. Social media didn’t even exist as an industry the last time I was working full-time in marketing seven years ago. You should always be learning and growing, just keep trying and don’t stop. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, recognize them early, apologize and move on.
— Greg Lord (@greglordstudio) May 18, 2013