How Facebook Groups became incredibly useful during a Texas tornado

By: David Arkin
May 31, 2024
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A pretty rough storm — actually an EF-1 tornado — came barreling through Houston last week, killing seven people and knocking out power for nearly 1 million people.

It was awful.

I live in Houston and we’ve experienced our fair share of rough weather over the years, but this was one of the worst.

An interesting thing happened though during the storm for me personally: Our neighborhood Facebook Group became an important source of information and sometimes frustration.

Don’t get me wrong, I consumed content through the media, and there was some outstanding journalism done including up-to-the minute breaking news, interactive tools and strong human interest stories.

But as my family was without power for four days, what was most important had everything to do about who was getting power back and when. All of my neighbors were desperate for accurate restoration information and so everyone took to our Facebook Group page and shared. A lot.

This storm was local to people. Really local. And there are some great lessons on why tapping into local Facebook Groups to discover what hyperlocal information people are seeking is a very smart strategy.

 An outage map that was not very useful

The local power company created a map that was developed to help people understand when their power would come back on. Different colors were assigned to days that the power company was estimating power in that area would be restored.

Here’s what that looked like:

But when you zoomed in you had no idea what color your street was because there were no detailed streets on the map and the colors all bled together.

So what happened? Neighbors in my community’s Facebook Group started making their own maps to predict what they believed the locations were that would get power based on how they were reading the map.

Here is what one of those images looked like:

As you might imagine, this was frustrating for everyone.

Always ask your audience what they need

My neighborhood was really no different than a dozen others across Houston that were all pretty impacted by the outages.

All of us wondered when our power would come back on, but we really just wanted to understand that map.

I know it’s really hard during breaking news situations to stop and ask, but knowing what your audience needs help with, is incredibly helpful.

I remember leading coverage a few years back during a big storm and I simply put a question out on Facebook asking people what they wanted to know or needed help with.

Over and over again, the responses were about the impact in their location. How much rain will they get, for how long and was it safe to drive in specific areas.

When we say it’s a hyperlocal world this is really what that means: Tell me what is happening to me and around me.

So, we created stories that got as deep as possible on rain totals by location and did Facebook Lives showing real-time information with guidance on how long the weather would last in these areas. It was a simple way of hearing what people needed and acting.

So this brings me back to the outages in Texas last week. Asking that question would have generated a beg for help in many places around what is happening in my neighborhood around restoration and how can you help me understand this map.

Not as simple as grabbing the weather team the way I was able to, but with access to a traffic reporter and other sources (like the power company, the city’s public works department) breaking down that map in the areas that had the most outages, would have been an amazing service.

It’s really hard when you are operating at a metro level to get down into individual communities. But it’s what matters the most.

 Facebook Groups are messy but wonderful

Yes, my Facebook Group neighborhood page is filled with a lot of nonsense. But what I saw during the storm was more helpfulness than ugliness.

There was stuff like this:

There’s real stuff happening on those pages that’s worth monitoring. In the case of last week, yes, understanding the urgent need to explain the maps was important. But the number of people offering to help others, was incredibly uplifting and would have made for a great story and potentially a guide on what different neighborhoods around the city needed. The information on the cooling centers and how to give monetarily is great, but there were needs in neighborhoods.

Based on the size of your community and media company, there’s a pretty good shot that someone in your organization is part of the largest pages in your community.

Facebook Group strategies for media companies aren’t solely about getting traffic for your stories, they are about providing helpful information and answers to questions. But they also serve as great places to discover story ideas and needs in your community.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about Facebook Group strategies for media companies, you can use our guide that we have here.

David Arkin is the founder of David Arkin Consulting and can be reached at

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