With the lights out smart phones are the only source of information for people left in the dark by Hurricane Sandy, which puts the spotlight on Twitter and Facebook.
Cell phone towers don't seem to have been affected, so everyone's turning to those tiny screens, from the millions of people using Twitter to communicate with friends, to Governor Cuomo sharing a photo of the flooded subway station, to CNN's Anderson Cooper, who anchored his show by cell phone, to a range of reporters, including CNBC's who shared messages and photos, from phones.
Twitter and Facebook are racing to make themselves the go-to destination for information during crises. Twitter hasn't released any metrics on the surge in Tweets about the Hurricane, but there's no question that people can't stop talking about the storm. Top trending topics include FEMA, New Yorkers, NYU, NYSR, and ConEd.
Twitter is offering free "Promoted Crisis Tweets" to @RedCross @FEMA @NYCMAYORS office and @MDMEMA. The service is posting a blog telling people how to receive Tweets via SMS even without a Twitter account and which accounts to follow in states affected by the storm.
Meanwhile Facebook says the top 10 shared terms by US users, as of 10 am ET Tuesday, are all related to the storm. The first most-shared term is "we are OK," followed by comments about power, either lost power, have power, or no power, and the third most shared term is "damage." Facebook says Hurricane Sandy is an 8.34 on its "Talk Meter," its 1-10 scale of what people are talking about. That's the second highest rating for the year, just behind the Super Bowl. And in states impacted by the storm, the ratings are even higher—9.19 in Connecticut, and 9.16 in New Jersey.
Facebook is featuring a Disaster Relief and FEMA page to keep people up-to-date. Facebook says all of the top 10 phrases in the US related to the storm. Facebook's Instagram service reported before the storm hit that 10 pictures per second were being posted with the hash tag Sandy.
YouTube also made itself a source of information—a crisis map includes public alerts and emergency information. The New York-specific Hurricane Sandy map includes live webcams and open shelters. YouTube is also encouraging people to embed these maps in their own websites. And for those who have Internet access but no electricity, the Weather Channel is live streaming on Youtube - and users are doing their own live streams, turning to Google Hangouts to share what they're seeing in their neighborhoods.
-By CNBC's Julia Boorstin
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