Swine Flu, or H1N1 Virus, is spreading like wildfire – online, that is.
Beyond the tsunami of news coverage and buzz in the blogosphere, swine flu is demonstrating the power, efficiency and ramifications of digital media – well, at least in times of an impending pandemic. Although we are still in the midst of the crisis, it’s interesting to see how organizations are using social media and digital technology in response.
To put things into perspective, Neilson Online found that online conversations about swine flu are doubling daily and the topic had been discussed on nearly six percent of blogs, news sites and forums by Tuesday morning. In addition, since April 24th, over 13,400 tweets had been tagged with #SwineFlu (the hash tag @CDCemergency is using) on Twitter, and that doesn’t include the other tags people are using! According to MSNBC, the topic accounted for nearly two percent of all tweets during the past few days. 140 characters or not, that’s a lot of conversations.
In addition, HHS responded by creating a Swine widget, which provides a graphic with links to the most recent CDC Swine Flu Info, and Google has launched a useful interactive map charting the course of the flu. John Brownstein, a physician at Children’s Hospital Boston, along with fellow CHB computer scientist Clark Friefeld, also created the HealthMap swine flu tracking service, which was recently modified to include Twitter updates. All this within the last week!
The speed at which organizations are utilizing social media to transmit their swine flu messages, as well as the rate people are consuming that information, is incredible. However, a conversation about the utility and benefits of digital technology and social media in times of crisis cannot ignore the potential of the tools to be used to rapidly propagate misinformation, as well as the need to monitor the conversations and engage if necessary.
As updates emerge hourly (the swine flu Wikipedia page was updated 60 times between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.) response to the spread of the virus, the Centers For Disease control acted quickly, updating their homepage and creating a special section solely for updates and information on swine flu that includes key facts, related items and the ability to share/post the page to social bookmarking and social networking sites. Buzz activity about the CDC mirrors closely the buzz surrounding both health scares. – Neilson Online
During times of crisis, digital technology and social media can provide valuable platforms to transmit messages efficiently. However, it’s important to remember that these tools don’t discriminate on the source, validity and value of information being shared. This is why organizations with vested interests involved during a crisis should not only transmit, but also monitor, engage and participate in the online space to ensure the truth trumps speculation and hearsay.
Chris Rottler, Digital Strategist & Account Executive