Thursday, 22 April 2010

Social Media is Hot over Iceland Ash

The immediacy and community of social media benefitted many of the millions of stranded travellers across Europe and the world. Sitting around in an airport is never fun. I have had my share of long layovers and having access to other people rather than running amok in a terminal was really a Godsend. I was never as unfortunate (knock on wood) as the "victims" of the Icelandic ash vs flightplans, but I can well imagine how having a channel to the outside world, to tips and help would lend to maintaining one's sanity in the face of uncertainty, especially after several days.

The Survival Guide page was one such page created on Facebook, where already over 1600 persons have been offering tips, advice and using the space for frustrated discussion.

Not only was it an opportunity for travellers to connect with each other and share their experiences and gripes, but it also afforded many of them the opportunity to find accomodation and support from others. On Twitter, hashtags like #getmehome, #putmeup and #stranded have provided tweeters with dozens of links to available hotel rooms, guest rooms, people willing to put up the stranded in a spare room of their private homes, etc.

The uncertainty lately with flightplans, with strikes and acts of God have made it even more important for social media to play bigger roles in the tourism and hospitality industry. Their crisis management plans not only kicked into high gear but also took to the cyberverse in a big way. Communication in this instance needed to be immediate and ongoing, with so many people being affected and taken completely by surprise. Not knowing when you're going to be seeing your home, your dog, your 2.5 kids because you're stuck in a foreign country can only exacerbate an already tenuous scenario. Twitter sites from airlines and hotels lit up like flash bulbs when news of the ash cloud stopping flights first dropped. Tweets and DMs have been going back and forth between airline representatives and passengers, as one can imagine. Despite not being stranded anywhere myself, I still took time to tweet @British_Airways yesterday on something related to the ash and their tweeters are on the ball, though it must be an extremely tough time for them all at the moment - passengers and airlines alike.

This Facebook group is just one of many which was formed within hours of the closure of European airspace to offer solace to passengers stranded miles from home in New Zealand.

There have also been a number of people who have used the opportunity to blog about their experience, from sitting in an airport terminal, to looking for more comfortable accomodation, trying to reach family in other cities, and the long, convuluted journeys home. Nadia El-Awady chronicled her Icelandic ash "adventures" in her blog, Inner Workings of my Mind. There are many more and which would be excellent reading, I am sure.

The silver lining in this ash cloud is that we are reminded that community still exists and though we use social media everyday for idle chatter or for business/marketing, we only fully appreciate how powerful social media communities really are in times of crisis. The help which many of the stranded have been able to get simply by logging on to Facebook or Twitter or Roadsharing via their laptops or their mobile phones, is testament to how important social media has become in our daily lives and how it can connect us to people we never imagined we would need to be connected to. Had this happened back in the 90's or maybe even 3-5 years ago, when social networking had not yet gripped our senses, I can only guess that the chaos experienced by those left behind would have been multiplied by 10,000. Here's hoping everyone gets back home safely in coming days and weeks.

Here is a really cool story about a webcam wedding which happened as a result of the bride and groom being stranded. Congrats to them. Isn't it great?


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