[Social] The science behind spreading rumours online

Whether amplifying favourable content or nullifying potential crises, gauging how and why information spreads is integral to managing reputation online. Good PRs often rely on instinct, intuitively knowing content will spread well in social channels, and where to seed it. However, a more calculated approach may be possible in the future.

A prototype search tool, Trumor is being developed by MIT???s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems which allows people to search a given topic and find the pieces of information relating to that topic most likely to spread on Twitter. As Erica Naone explains in a more comprehensive article, Trumor determines the ???network centrality??? of users, weights their posts and calculates which content is most likely to spread.

What is interesting about Trumor is that it takes a systems approach to the problem of information flow in social media channels, looking at entire networks rather than immediate connections. It is an outside-in method of determining ???superstars???, contrasting Peer Index and Klout which begin with the user, leaving PRs to build a picture of optimum information flow based on individual influence.

Only time will tell if Trumor ends up proving genuinely useful, or even being made publicly available. It is still in early development stages, after all, but the impact of such tools on managing reputation online could be significant. The auxiliary and unplanned benefit of Google for predicting spread of infections caused the search engine to launch its infection-control service, flagging up contagion hotspots. Similarly, Trumor could have a real impact in terms of crisis management.

If companies could predict how certain rumours might spread in the event of a crisis it would enable them to put more solid protocols in place. A product recall crisis may spread very differently on Twitter to a crisis caused by a CEO???s racist remarks, for example. Of course crises will always be contextual and consequently impossible to predict with total accuracy, but Trumor could flag up hubs in networks that have the potential to turn a problem into a crisis.

Going forward it seems inevitable that crisis handling will become an ever more important part of managing reputation online. The increased interconnectivity social media provides, the speed information spreads and that crises can escalate means predictive tools, even if somewhat crude in comparison to actual outcomes, will be much sought after by companies. For that reason Trumor looks to be one worth watching.

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