More Uses for Social Media: Using Twitter to Track Illness



One of my favorite personal uses for social media is as a search tool.

Sure, Twitter has its own useful search tool (more useful than Facebook’s because most tweets are public), but tools like Topsy allow you to search through social media in incredible ways.

For a business like ours here at SMC, such search tools have utility because they let us track who’s talking about our clients. There may not be many people out there talking about manufacturing on social media, but when there are, you can bet that we’ll find them.

On a personal level, searching social media is so cool because it allows me to see, almost instantly, what’s happening around the world–and what people think about those events. Having that kind of power even ten years ago was almost unimaginable, and having it now is still fairly awe-inspiring at times.

But perhaps even more impressive than brand tracking or monitoring news are the uses for social media that we haven’t thought of yet.

A relatively new site called Sickweather.com is using social media to track illness–which couldn’t come at a better time, because the current government shutdown means that the CDC won’t be spending nearly as much time or resources monitoring the flu.

Here’s how it works: every day, thousands of people around the world (but especially those in the U.S.) update Facebook and Twitter when they or someone they know are sick. Posts as simple as “I’m sick” to “I think I’m coming down with the flu” indicate that a person is likely ill, and until recently, just sat around the social media universe, only having value for friends or other acquaintances.

But Sickweather, which also allows users to register and input how they’re feeling directly, has come up with a way to track and map the data, making it public to anyone who logs onto their site. The result is a live map of illness going on around the country, whether that’s the flu or the common cold. Sickweather still seems to be working out some kinks, but even now, they provide a very useful map of how the flu is spreading all around the country.

Even if you don’t get sick often, or if you don’t care about the flu, it’s not hard to see just how incredible tools like Sickweather are.

This tool is hardly the first of its kind. Even recently, the BlueJay Twitter-monitoring tool has promised to allow law enforcement agencies to track threats–which is slightly terrifying, if you ask me. But still, as I said, what matters isn’t that we’re tracking the flu (though that’s useful) or that we’re looking after threats (also useful, I suppose).

What matters is that social media continues to push the threshold of what’s possible. There are so many uses for social media–many of which we haven’t even discovered yet–that sometimes, it’s worth just sitting back and admiring how far social media has taken us, and how far it can push us in the future.

Do I think that tools like Sickweather are going to fundamentally change the ways that we operate and interact with each other on a regular basis? Not really. But do I think that they’re useful, and that without social media, they’d be nothing short of impossible? Absolutely.

Twitter and social media may have business utility, but it’s also worth remembering that they have ‘life’ utility, too. And one thing’s for certain–you won’t find me getting bored of that any time soon

Although we may not have the tools to track how the flu is spreading throughout the country, we do have the ability and know-how to see how people–whether locally, or around the country–are talking about your brand. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your business, contact us at Social Media Contractors in the comments or on Twitter. We’re not infectious disease specialists, but we do know social media.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by skampy

About the author: John Darwin

John is a recent college graduate from Creighton University. He earned his B.A. in English, specializing in British Literature, and is currently working as an editor at Social Media Contractors.

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