One of the remarkable things about Twitter is how versatile 140 characters can be. When Jack Dorsey held the first brainstorming meeting at Odeo, where Twitter was born, he suggested calling the service “Stat.us” for updating a small group of friends. No one thought it would turn into a mass networking communication system.
Now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has adopted Twitter as a personal, AP-wire-style news feed for updates on the Swine Flu. But the CDC Twitter stream goes beyond wire reports; it provides behind-the-scenes access to how health professionals are fighting the H1N1 virus, including links to planning conference calls if you wish to listen in and downloadable messaging to help cascade the flu-fighting message. It’s going to be a difficult flu season; the vaccine isn’t quite ready yet, and Americans who wish to get inoculated will need three total shots, one for the regular seasonal flu and two more to keep the pigs at bay. The feed is a good reminder, and taking Americans behind the curtain to show how health leaders are developing plans to fight an outbreak is a nice touch.
Disclosure: the CDC is a past client. Mediassociates is not affiliated with this Twitter program. We update you on their flu effort both for the marketing angle and as a public service.
We spoke today with a gentleman working on a business plan for a very clever, and potentially lucrative, business. Research is required to tune the concept, and especially to predict which types of customers will be most interested. So we suggested that instead of focus groups or quantitative studies, he instead stage a small web campaign, insert a snippet of Quantcast code into the banners and landing pages, and use it to match inbound visitors to the vast data sets of user behavior online — which would pinpoint the exact demographics of the audience who likes his offer.
You know. Open the door and observe who walks through it.
Data is dangerous because it lulls us into false security — we often want to predict what will happen based on erroneous theories, and then fail to see the reality transpiring before our eyes. Wired notes this week the meltdown on Wall Street was tied to a single math formula that allowed investors a shortcut to assess hugely complex risks (um, big mistake). Our Twitter colleague Max Zeledon points out Nassim Taleb’s thesis that major events are really unpredictable; humans in hindsight try to make sense of the disorder in the universe by linking data points into logic flows, when the reality is Black Swans — things that shouldn’t exist — often just pop up. You can bend your mind thinking about the paths of fate; see Schrödinger’s cat and then ask which of yourselves is going in to work tomorrow morning.
Sometimes data can predict events, if screened carefully; Google does this beautifully with its little known Flu Trends site, collecting user Google searches for flu remedies to predict outbreaks in the United States two weeks before the Centers for Disease Control. Tel Aviv University professors are sorting Gnutella music searches by the location of consumers to predict when small bands will spike into bell curves of popularity. And in our favorite example, a simple chart comparing home prices vs. rent over the past 28 years indicates clearly that the U.S. housing market was due for a massive headache in 2009.
So are we humans vain to try to see the future, based on the data at hand? Or does randomness really make forecasting impossible? We ordered Taleb’s Black Swan tonight to learn more. Until then, we’ll keep trying.
The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are rolling out two fall campaigns encouraging consumers to prepare for the flu — both small-scale winter sniffles and potential for large-scale pandemic.
Mediassociates was honored to participate in the planning, and while we usually don’t tout clients at the risk of being self-serving, saving lives is a good cause. It’s worth noting the HHS has put up a resource-rich site called pandemicflu.gov which gives away tons of content to health care professionals, policymakers, and the media, hoping that they will cascade the message. It’s such a simple idea, and yet powerful — rather than do all the advertising yourself, what if you use the media and the web to encourage others to share your message? Most businesses have passionate advocates. Give them the tools to tell others.
It’s nice work (and no, we can’t take credit for the site). Check it out, get a flu shot, and stock up on bottled water. Be safe this winter, friends.
Thanks go to the nonprofit Academy for Educational Development, human and social development marketers, for leading communications on this.