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Sandy shows mobile-first becomes mobile-only

By Dan Hodges

On Jan. 12, 2010, shortly after the earthquake in Haiti, I received a call from the U.S. Department of State requesting help to obtain a short code to aid in the communication and coordination efforts on the ground.

We provided a solution and in its aftermath I thought just how much we rely on mobile phones when all else fails.

On Monday night, Oct. 29 starting at 8 p.m. we could see the transformers in the area exploding until around 10 p.m., when the transformer in our neighborhood exploded. The power has remained off since then.

If there was any doubt about the importance of mobile devices in our lives, leave it to Superstorm Sandy to turn skeptics into believers.

Mobile’s new charge
One week later, the situation has improved for some, while 1.2 million of us are still without power.

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words has never resonated more than in the hours following Sandy.

There were sobering images of destruction, flooding, lives, families and daily patterns interrupted.

These images were posted and shared by our friends, colleagues and complete strangers moving around the social grid in near real-time – and for those of us in the affected regions, it was all done on our mobile devices. No power. No broadcast television. No radio. No computer to access, only our smartphones in our pockets and whatever power was left in the battery. How long would that last?

Soon, pockets of neighborhoods began to receive power later in the week, and with it new photos began to surface, demonstrating that in times of disaster the human spirit prevails.

Powerful message

Now there were images of those who had regained power creating mobile “charging stations” from their porch to help their neighbors who were still without power re-charge and regain some sense of connectivity.

Making a connection
This innate desire of helping each other remain connected to be able to access up-to-the-minute news is very telling of the mobile culture in which we now find ourselves.

In fact, traffic across the Verve platform reached new heights as Americans turned to their mobile devices to follow Sandy and its destructive aftermath.

As of 7 a.m. PDT, Oct. 30, mobile application traffic was up 37 percent and mobile Web traffic was up over 24 percent, and this is up over already elevated levels from the final push in a hotly contested election, while areas in the hardest hit regions saw traffic spike more than 300 percent.

We have seen these patterns before, particularly in times of natural disasters, but never at this magnitude. What was noteworthy was the basic Maslow-like need to understand what was happening at the local level.

While Sandy was national news, what people wanted to know most was how the storm was affecting their city and, more importantly, their neighborhood.

Questions such as what gas stations still have gas, and where can we find a grocery store that is still receiving shipments were all being answered through local mobile news outlets.

What has changed from, say, Hurricane Katrina, or the tragic tornados that struck Alabama, is how quickly the companies and organizations that provide relief and services in this time of need are recognizing mobile as the first access point to those in need.

We have worked with leading insurance companies this past week such as Allstate to quickly launch campaigns targeted specifically to reach their customers and potential customers in the most affected neighborhoods, helping storm victims make claims and find an agent in their area, as well as providing overall access to important recovery and relief information for their local area recovery.

Grounding reality

IF THERE WAS any doubt about the importance of mobile devices in our lives, that doubt was obliterated this week by a storm named “Sandy.”

Anyone who continues to downplay the importance of mobile and brand communications clearly was not paying attention to the Northeast this past week. It is critical for brands to realize that mobile connects us all and when events such as Superstorm Sandy strike that brands need to have a mobile strategy at the ready.

Dan Hodges is Westfield, NJ-based chief revenue officer of Verve Mobile. Reach him at [email protected].