Swine Flu Showing The Best – And Worst – Of Social Media In A Crisis

I’ve written and presented in the past on potential uses of social media in crisis communications. In the past, it’s been about the potential uses. In the last few days, though, we’ve seen some of the best – and worst – potential uses of online tools (social and otherwise) to communicate with the public in an emergency.

While hardly scientific, here are three of the best ways you can use online tools to stay on top of the latest developments in the swine flu outbreak:

Track it in the news

Google Alerts are somewhat  of an obvious tool, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Set up an alert with “swine flu” to track developments in general, or an alert with “swine flu” and your town’s name to keep an eye on local stories.

Track it geographically

Plenty of online maps are available to help you get a sense of how swine flu has spread. Two of the best have been created by Henry Niman, founder of Recombinomics (hat tip to Om Malik), RSOE Emergency and Disaster Information Service (which I wrote about previously here) and Google’s HealthMap

View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map

Track it in real-time

For breaking news, there are few places better to look nowadays than Twitter. Organizations like the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (also here), the Red Cross,  the folks behind HealthMap and the World Health Organization are using Twitter to distribute their latest updates in real-time.

Track it via RSS

Many of the organizations officially dealing with the outbreak have stepped-up and provided RSS-enabled updates on their sites. Check out updates from the CDC and World Health Organization, and plug them into your RSS reader.

Be careful

Meanwhile, we’ve also seen the risks of relying on the wisdom (and hysteria) of the crowd, with an overwhelming level of conversation around swine flu and information of dubious validity being posted. Make sure you double-check anything you see before assuming it is correct.

Other ways?

What are the best examples you’ve seen of online tools being used to communicate through this outbreak?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.