When pandemics go viral

When pandemics go viral

Last month, Twitter’s traffic exceeded traffic to nytimes.com by nearly 4 million visitors, and the site is...

When pandemics go viral

Last month, Twitter’s traffic exceeded traffic to nytimes.com by nearly 4 million visitors, and the site is now poised to outpace even CNN. Crisis plans need to be adapted to integrate the new channels which are defining behavior patterns and shaping opinion.

Just look at the H1N1 flu outbreak. At one point swine flu was commanding about 10,000 tweets per hour. Unsubstantiated messengers can have serious and damaging effect. The 10% drop in pork prices following the outbreak was certainly spurred by the hype and heightened the pandemic fears.

Twitter has changed how PR professionals need to react to and anticipate crises. Pandemic and crisis plans can become irrelevant in the flash of a Tweet. It’s now less about planning and more about rapid response and flexibility in moments of crisis. PR professionals should follow three guidelines:

  • Speed: Consider that last July, Twitter users beat the AP at reporting on the LA earthquake by nine minutes, and last month #amazonfail galvanized the social media community to take immediate action against Amazon.com in a matter of hours.

  • Share of voice: Twitter conversation will take place whether you’re there for it or not. Companies like Dell and Southwest have embraced the community, and been able to drive conversation.

  • Credibility: Despite Twitter’s rapidly growing audience, the site’s users have not comparably increased their credibility. Anyone apparently can be the Dalai Lama or Shaquille O’Neal. Consistent participation providing expert insights can help to establish credibility.


Kathy Bloomgarden, co-CEO of Ruder Finn

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