However, we do not believe that the social ties themselves cause or even facilitate the spread of infection. Instead, the Twitter friendships are proxies and indicators for a complex set of phenomena that may not be directly accessible. For example, friends often eat out together, meet in classes, share items and travel together. While most of these events are never explicitly mentioned online, they are crucial from the disease transmission perspective. However, their likelihood is modulated by the structure of the social ties, allowing us to reason about contagion."
Marketers Use Twitter to Find Potential Customers
These techniques aren't just useful to researchers. Cold-remedy maker Cold-EEZE and social marketing firm Refine+Focus built Cold-EEZE's social marketing strategy around the research. Refine+Focus founder and CEO Zach Braiker explains that a Cold-EEZE community manager monitors Twitter for cold symptom indicators and then reaches out to form a connection with users tweeting about symptoms.
"We look for people who are expressing cough and cold symptoms," Braiker says. "We respond to nearly everyone that meets those certain criteria and often it creates a meaningful interaction. In some cases, it results in a real friendship."
He notes that this doesn't require Hadoop clusters or expensive data visualization solutions, just Twitter's Search API and a competent community manager.
"For our needs, we're able to use the Twitter interface directly because we have very specific searches that we have pregenerated," he says. "For the most part, what helps with the process at this level is to have a competent community manager that's constantly looking at the feeds and making a human decision to interact with somebody."
One example involves an athlete who was expressing concerns about a cough before participating in an Ironman competition. Using that information, Cold-EEZE sent a care package to help the athlete overcome the cough ahead of the race.
Genuine Interactions Are Essential
The key, Braiker says, is to create real, genuine interactions.
Whether you're looking at Twitter, Facebook or some other social network, he recommends identifying the people who will be most receptive to your message and then engage them with quality conversations. Remember details about them and what they've said in the past. Use names and talk about things of substance.