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Business

Sickening swine flu, social media opportunism

It's times like these that make me ashamed to say I work in marketing.The noise around swine flu has quieted down a little, but that's not to say that people still shouldn't be wary.
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Written by Jennifer Leggio on

It's times like these that make me ashamed to say I work in marketing.

The noise around swine flu has quieted down a little, but that's not to say that people still shouldn't be wary. However, I'm a little peeved at the types of media pitches I have been getting around swine flu and... social media. No, that's right. Swine flu and social media.

As if getting 300 emails a day that start with "In today's troubling economy..." isn't bad enough, I am now getting several emails that start with, "Because no one wants to get swine flu."

I wish I was lying.

When I complained about this to my fellow ZDNet'ers, my colleague Jason Perlow made the point that there is a tie-in to social networking and swine flu, but really only one.

"Services like Twitter and Facebook can be harmful technologies for disseminating misinformation quickly about something -- such as the current status of the swine flu, strains in the US, how many cases, severity, etc. -- due to the swarm/mob nature of its participants most of which are not SMEs," he said. "Twitter and Facebook work for things like terror attacks like in Mumbai when there is first hand information, but when they play the "pass it on" game it's not so effective."

I absolutely agree. But that's sort of where the social media angle ends to all of this. Unfortunately, the PR people and marketeers behind some of these other pitches don't think so. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that soap makers and others are hitching their advertisements to the swine flu fear. I can sort of see that, though I still think it's a bit too opportunistic. Don't most of us use soap every day? (Please say yes.) And don't we all wash our hands vigorously after using the washroom or before touching our food? (Please say yes.)

At the same time, I was greatly annoyed by a pitch I got yesterday for anti-bacterial wipes based on a "reminder to keep our kids' hands clean due to swine flu." If someone needs a reminder of that, they might have bigger issues than swine flu in their future. Not to mention, I'm not sure what that has to do with social business at all.

Here are some of my "favorite" opportunistic pitches:

  • A marketing firm out of New York wanted me to speak with them to get their insights on how health companies could better market themselves through social media in light of the swine flu
  • One social network wanted me to get excited about how many status updates revolved around swine flu
  • A doctor wanted me to publicize his Twitter feed so people could ask for medical advice. On the Internet (guessing he got his license on the Internet, too).
  • One PR agency asked if I would consider publishing a byliner on how social networks could capitalize on the swine flu pandemic

I don't take too kindly to this sort of stuff. If you recall, I went a bit ballistic on a marketing guy who started using the Mumbai hash tag on Twitter to try and market his company.

Major party foul, people. Please knock it off.

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