Here Comes Nemo

Here Comes Nemo image nemo 300x288nemoBefore a couple of weeks ago, most of us thought either “Jules Verne” or “lost clownfish” when we heard the name “Nemo.”

But after a major storm hit the Northeast in the first week of February, the name only meant one thing: almost three feet of snow.

Even those of us who don’t live in the storm’s path got to experience the historic blizzard via social network posts by those holed up in their homes or attempting to dig out. And as with all major news, weather, sports and cultural events, the Twittersphere responded with a heavily trafficked hashtag.

Interestingly enough, the Weather Channel was behind Nemo’s moniker, as part of its new policy of naming large storms. The NOAA refused to acknowledge the choice, but #Nemo gained traction on Twitter as a hashtag, nonetheless, and well in advance of the actual storm system’s appearance, those in the path of Nemo benefitted from a single name to tie all the Tweets about it together.

Simply by clicking through the Nemo hashtag, users could gain up-to-the-second information from the Weather Channel itself, along with local forecasters, government officials and fellow Twitterers riding out the storm.

The data in aggregate ultimately painted a fairly accurate picture (especially with the addition of real photos and video) of the impact the storm was having in different areas.

Clearly, this is where Twitter shines in times of crisis: by offering an ever-updating spot for people to report their experiences and view the experiences of others, and for those with a mandate to inform the public a platform to address their constituents and audiences as the need arose.

In fact, Pew Research did a survey comparing the use of Facebook and Twitter for following and reporting news and found that Twitter offered users more sources of information than the mostly family and friends-driven Facebook. In addition, Twitter offered more unique stories that either weren’t being reported anywhere else, or weren’t being updated as regularly as they were on Twitter—and it’s easy to see why that would be appealing in the midst of a major weather event.

I suppose some would argue the Weather Channel benefitted most from naming Nemo –and that’s no surprise, given that the organization worked in advance to integrate #nemo feeds into its website, and that Google was sending “nemo” traffic to the Weather Channel’s pages within hours of when it began using the term to refer to the storm.

However, that didn’t keep local and regional meteorologists out of the spotlight, since their reporting appeared in the #nemo feed right alongside the Weather Channel’s coverage, providing more detailed information for particular areas.

And it’s not just social media users who are taking advantage of new approaches to analyzing and contextualizing “big data” during major newsworthy events.

Nemo caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights across the Northeast, leaving ticketing agents and customer call centers with a hornet’s nest of angry travelers trying to rebook their flights. In response to events like Nemo, Delta Airlines is rolling out new software called VIPER (“Virtual Inconvenienced Passenger Expedited Reprotection”) designed to wade into the fray and organize customers onto new flights with a minimum of fuss.

The system uses automation and aggregated data to both anticipate and respond to issues that travelers face—and to meet their rerouting and rebooking needs with less stress on Delta’s customer representatives.

While it may seem like Twitter catches fire in the face of a crisis—or during the Super Bowl, or during awards shows and so on—it turns out that the rush of information and data it dumps into user streams can be as helpful as it is overwhelming.

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