The Chennai example: Social media in the time of floods

chennairainsWhen the heaviest rains in 100 years, submerged the city of Chennai, citizens found help from an unlikely quarter—social media. Concerned netizens across the country, equipped with laptops and smart phones, reached out to help. This, even before the state agencies could help.

This is not the first time when people on social media have come together for a cause, but this time the impact was pervasive. It was used as a platform to provide flood status reports, disseminate critical information and coordinate local relief efforts during the Chennai floods. Among the noteworthy uses of digital platforms was a crowd-sourced map of flooded roads, and flood relief centres. Another initiative, Chennai Rains, an independent weather blogging community, released regular updates on the rains.

The outpouring of help was similar to the one witnessed during the Paris attacks, when people generated and used the #PorteOuverte (OpenDoor) hashtag across social media, to help people who were stuck in the lock down post the serial attacks, and looking for shelter.

As social media became the single point of reference for all relief and rescue data and work, the hashtag #chennairainhelps was being used to both offer and seek help. According to Buzzinga, more than 470k Tweets were sent using #ChennaiRains, #ChennaiFloods and #ChennaiRainsHelp hashtags to crowdsource assistance. Facebook also started a ‘safety status’ update which enabled stranded users to mark their status as ‘safe’ as and when they could get connected.

Out of the total 504.3 K conversations online, there were more than 13,000 articles on news and forums, 9000 posts on Google Plus, around 6000 posts on Facebook, and more than 1746 blog posts, clearly showing the magnitude of information being exchanged for common cause.

If it was social media that set the ball rolling, brands also joined the efforts. As Ola cabs made headlines with its free boat ride service, Uber Chennai was in the news for offering free rides. Restaurant search start-up Zomato announced that for every Chennai Flood Relief meal bought for two, it will buy one and deliver to those in need.

Digiqom was also working round the clock to disseminate urgent and important information. For HDFC Bank, our team was constantly updating location- specific information about operational ATMs and Branches, as well as POS terminals to swipe debit or credit cards to get cash as well as important announcements such as penalty waivers for EMI payment delays. Similarly, we were supporting Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in creating awareness about their relief work for inspiring their country-wide network to step forward to help, in the post- flood period.

In all, the power of individuals and companies to impact lives in a tragedy was on display. All it needed was a powerful social network, and a willingness to reach out.

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