News of the Chilean earthquake carries greater resonance coming so soon on the heals of the devastating health and human costs witnessed in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
As you watch coverage of this and other health disasters, some social and new media outlets can offer interesting insights not available from the main stream “old media” outlets, i.e. television, radio, and newspapers. I’m using one such service called Trendrr.com to track the number of Twitter and Google News postings that contain the words “Chile” and “Earthquake.”
Trendrr provides “real-time social & digital media tracking.” A subscription service, you can get a limited number of searches for free. They are a powerful tool for anyone interested in how new and social media (web-enabled information sharing) is informing users about health, disasters, or other social phenomenon.
For example, the number of Google News stories about the Chilean earthquake swiftly went from 2057 on the morning of the event to over 16,000 the next day, and near 24,000 by the third day. Twitter postings about the subject went from 6225 an hour at noon EST on Saturday up to 9196 four hours later, then declined to 449 within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Trendrr data also shows that even as old media coverage of Haiti has all but disappeared, the number of new fans on Partners In Health’s (PIH) Facebook page continues to grow. PIH is the preeminent health NGO in Haiti, and continued growth in their fan base indicates that at least among Facebook users, there is continued interest in the Haiti story.
Why might we care? It informs us about how social media users are engaging with and sharing health-related information. Such users are not necessarily the same as non-users, so what we learn may not apply to the rest of the population. But interesting hypothesis can still be generated. Coverage of disasters in the old media fades rapidly, and journalists claim that this reflects fading consumer interest. But it could reflect short attention span among journalists, or industry inability to reductions in the number of journalists have reduced media capacity to concurrently follow multiple long-term stories? Social media research, using tools such as Trendrr, raises the spectacle that perhaps social media users are the types of information seekers that desire both instant access to news on the ground, as well as long term coverage of stories. The approach of the old media, meanwhile, is geared towards satisfying an audience who is tolerant of slow, short term, and generally shallow coverage of complex events.
We may also learn of potential new applications for social media. Could Twitter be a format that allows lay-sentinels to report unusual health events, raising a red flag for disease surveillance experts to investigate? Tools like Trendrr allow comparison between old and new media responses. I’m currently doing just that, and will let you know what I find.
Have you used social marketing tracking for interesting health-related research? Let us know which services, and what you’ve found!