A few days ago the news of a swine flu strain originated in Mexico started spreading with greater speed and alacrity than (hopefully) the flu itself.
The interconnected nature of those of us who are online helped the information make its way through multiple networks. In a matter of hours, the Twitter stream by CDC went from a 1,000 to 46,000 67,000 78,000+ followers (updated at last check).
This is word of mouth at work.
It’s much more than getting the news about what is going on. Thanks to the ability to share links, the help of search engines like Google, and the ability to tags topics and conversations, we can find out not just what is going on, but how it’s affecting people – our friends and families all over the world.
Content is an opportunity
Rather than bemoaning the sad state of negative news spreading so fast, organizations have a tremendous opportunity here – that of broadcasting timely and useful information to people who actually want and need it. The CDC Emergency stream is a great example of that.
This does not absolve or reduce the responsibility companies and institutions have towards their customers and citizens – that of doing what they are created or are in business for. However, the tools at our disposal make it easier for us to go from mere spectators to actors.
We can find, filter, and share content. And because of our propensity to build self-esteem by telling others what we learn, we do so happily. The higher the usefulness, credibility, and quality of the content, the faster it will spread through connected networks. The tighter and more to the point, the greater the chance it will be passed on unchanged.
How can businesses benefit?
Thanks to micro blogging tools - which decrease an organization’s over reliance on main stream media - and the social Web - which may help with the checks and balances on the information - we are entering a new phase of possibility.
Content + cause builds a community
Joining a cause, or spearheading one can and indeed does create the circumstances for building a community – for example for Tyson Foods it's Hunger Relief. What I hope many of the speakers at BlogWell conveyed to you yesterday and in the videos you'll be able to see, is that takes attitude.
Ed Nicholson of Tyson Foods explained it better than I ever could. Some sound bites from his session:
The more we give without expecting intense ROI, the more we get back. This is not a campaign.
We're a company that makes food for people who can afford it. Why not give away food to those who cannot?
You should not have a brand-focused approach. It needs to revolve around the community. That can help you evolve the company.
Community stories are not always told by mainstream media. We are helping them tell their stories.
We invite guest posts in our blog. We try to incorporate as many voices as we can who can talk about the hunger issue.
I "just got chicken" for budget. Thanks to the community we can amplify what we can do.
The point is that relationships and reputation transcend technology changes. Many mass marketers understand media, they just may not get the "social" part. And that is what builds community. Nicholson cautioned that it takes time to build credibility in the community. Sponsorship dollars do not build community.
What's your take?