Curing the flu with social media

With more than a billion active Facebook users worldwide, 500 million Instagram users and 500 million new tweets posted every day, businesses have woken up to the power of social media. They’re not just using it as a communication or marketing tool, but also as a source of valuable insight into their audiences that can reap huge benefits for their organisation.

Social networks have become the go-to channels for consumers of all ages, who want to voice their opinions, share aspects of their lives, but also lodge complaints and express their delight over the products and the companies they engage with. And it is for this reason that more and more organisations are implementing a social media insight strategy.

Audience intelligence specialist Pulsar works with companies that want to tap into this gold mine of consumer insights and turn it to their competitive advantage.

Pulsar’s vice president product and research Francesco d’Orazio says: “There is so much to learn about audiences, their perceptions, their behaviours, their affinities. We use social data as one of the signals to build a real-time or historical picture of an audience in combination with other behavioural signals like web analytics and search data, as well as company proprietary data, to build a more holistic understanding of an audience.”

Pulsar recently carried out some research using social data into colds and flu, specifically looking at the things that people talk about online related to these ailments.

Mr d’Orazio says: “We wanted to find out where people turn to when they have flu symptoms, like a headache or aches and pains, and the results were very revealing. It was clear that people turn to home remedies before over-the-counter medicines. They do that because they are trying to postpone the moment they have to absolutely resort to drugs and go natural first. The data shows this is a two to three-day window where teas, honey, soups, lemon and ginger reign over everything else.

“Now from a commercial point of view the brands that make over-the-counter cold and flu medicines are missing a trick: they could play a role into this initial scene if they were offering a “pre-drugs” range of remedies and deliver the natural comfort customers are clearly looking for. These insights are simply derived from everyday human behaviour – the possibilities they present to businesses are unlimited.”

Another key area for businesses and other organisations is the use of social media data insights for predicting future trends or events, something of a Holy Grail in any business sector.

The level of insights we can get on an audience in real time is unprecedented, and is changing the way brands and organisations try and stay relevant

“The Food Standards Agency researched the norovirus, one of the symptoms of which is sickness,” says Mr d’Orazio. “They analysed Twitter data and mapped them against actual NHS lab reports. They discovered a connection between people mentioning the symptoms online and patients being diagnosed with the norovirus. So they created a model which just using social data now allows them to predict three or four days in advance when there’s going to be a major outbreak of norovirus, with a 70 per cent degree of accuracy, which is very high. They use this information, for example, to issue early warnings of potential norovirus outbreaks and precautions to be taken to avoid it spreading further.”

Working with Pulsar, companies from across all industry sectors, from fashion to sports and from tech brands to airlines, have access to an online platform where they can set up searches, by topic, content or by audience, and analyse data on demand, using the most advanced algorithms available for text and image analysis.

Mr d’Orazio concludes: “The level of insights we can get on an audience in real time is unprecedented, and is changing the way brands and organisations try and stay relevant. And this is not just something which benefits the companies that get access to the data. The consumer stands to gain from this too because ultimately a smart company designs better products and services, and delivers relevant marketing that really fits the needs of the audiences they are trying to reach.”

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