A Bedbug Outbreak in Social Media

This post was written by Phil Kam, Cision Analysis’ director of new services who is integrating social media analysis into general PR measurement protocol.

Bedbug infestations, especially in New York City, have been the topic of increasing conversation in social media this past month, largely due to increased reporting in traditional media about high-traffic public places.  From our analysis of close to 70,000 social media posts, we found undeniably bedbug conversations have gone viral, but not due to personal experiences.  Rather, a handful of incidents picked up by the media tapped into a predictable human reaction, and the result was an upswing in post activities.

For accurate PR measurement, we applied semantic filters, statistical knowledge of how language is used based on models of ideal, on-topic conversations. This takes out irrelevant mentions like, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” and hones in on posts with valuable content. En masse, these off-topic mentions can indicate general interest, but they do not lend themselves well to timely, accurate and cost-effective analysis.

With the semantic filter applied to a statistical sample of 10,000 messages, here’s what we learned:

  1. Only 15 percent of all messages use words like infestation, outbreak, crisis or panic.
  2. Of those on-topic comments, only 15 percent mention “hotels,” but less than 2 percent report a specific hotel property. No single hotel brands received significant share of voice in these conversations.
  3. Only a small portion of comments reference a specific incident. Most expressed a general sense of worry, especially among those traveling to large cities like New York (BedBugsRegistry.com claims New York has ten times the bedbug infestations of Los Angeles or San Francisco).
  4. On BedBugsRegistry.com, one Time Square hotel had 10 unique reports from travelers, each with specific room numbers and extremely detailed descriptions of the incidents and management’s reactions. Since ten reports is a big deal for the site, one could expect to see similar reports on TripAdvisor, the web’s leading travel discussion page, but that was not the case. Less than three percent of TripAdvisor’s negative reviews on the same hotel mentioned bedbugs. Why such a drastic difference? TripAdvisor is closely monitored by its administrators, whereas it appears that BedBugsRestiry is not. While the claims may very well be legitimate, this may also be yet another case of a dissatisfied customer using online anonymity to wreak reputational havoc.

With this level of interest in social conversations, the public seems to be eagerly waiting for more reported cases of infestations to “substantiate” the buzz.



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