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Swine Flu Wiggles into 2% of Tweets; Searchers, Bloggers Fuel Fire

As reports of swine flu outbreak reached beyond Mexican borders and into the US and other parts of the world last week, the number of Americans searching for information about the virus skyrocketed — as has the number of related blog posts, Tweets and advertisers looking to capitalize on the increased interest, according to separately released data from comScore, Inc. and Nielsen.

Swine-Flu Conversations Spike

Statistics (pdf) from Nielsen Online and Nielsen reveal the swine flu has gone viral on the internet. The volume of conversations about the swine-flu epidemic is already nearly 10 times the volume of conversations surrounding the salmonella and peanut butter scare from earlier this winter, and even dwarfs that of recent viral media singing star Susan Boyle, writes MarketingCharts.

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Swine flu also found its way into nearly 2% of all Twitter Tweets, indicating the magnitude of the spike in conversations on the web, Nielsen reported:

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Nielsen also noted that one day last week the swine-flu Wikipedia page was updated 60 times between 10am and 11am, and online buzz about the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - which is updating its site frequently and has created a special section for swine-flue-related information - has been dramatically higher during the swine-flu crisis than it was for the salmonella scare. Nielsen said that onlne activity about the CDC mirrors closely the buzz surrounding both health scares:

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Swine-Flu Searches Jump 1,900%

Showing a similar trend, comScore reports that a study of US consumer search activity related to the swine flu reveals the number of related searches for the week ending April 26, 2009 has jumped 1,900% vs. the previous week.comScore's Marketer Search Intelligence service reveals that 501,000 people conducted 929,000 searches related to the swine flu during the week ending April 26, 2009. This represents a nearly 20-fold increase versus the previous week for both metrics:

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Search Marketers Capitalize

Many search marketers used the increased interest in swine flu as an opportunity to communicate with consumers. For the week ending April 26, comScore observed 271 different advertisers with paid search inventory against swine-flu-related terms, up from 73 the previous week and 33 the week before that. The number of clicks on paid search ads also rose to 42,000 during the week ending April 26, up from fewer than 100 the previous week.

Top Swine Flu Paid Search Advertisers

Paid search advertising related to swine flu was done for both public and commercial benefit. The top paid search advertiser for the week ending April 26 was Facesofinflueza.com, a site of the American Lung Association that includes an array of information on the flu, including flu clinic locators. The site delivered nearly 200,000 paid search ads during the week. AARP.org also had a paid search strategy (36,000 paid search ads) to help promote public safety information to its constituents.

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Several advertisers promoted flu medical supplies and survival kits, including AreYouPrepared.com (89,000 paid search ads), BettyMills.com (55,000 paid search ads) and FluArmour.com (50,000 paid search ads).CVS Pharmacy, which sells many over-the-counter flu medications and anti-bacterial agents, also used paid search to place its brand front-and-center with consumers, said comScore.

"This example illustrates an important opportunity for marketers to use paid search to move beyond the standard direct-response sales model," said Eli Goodman, comScore search evangelist. "When an international issue on the level of the swine flu pandemic presents itself, a paid search strategy enables the timely delivery of important messages to the public. Whether for public safety or to drive product sales, paid search puts the relevant information into consumers’ hands at their time of greatest need."

comScore noted that makers of prescription drugs were notably absent from the advertiser list, suggesting that they may be sitting on the sidelines because of recent FDA guidance around paid search marketing practices.

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