How Clorox Used Social Media to Curb Flu Season

Christine Birkner​
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Over the past few years, Clorox has tracked the spread of the flu internally via social media mentions and CDC data.  

So what? For the 2015-2016 flu season, the company generated 3 million social media mentions and 7,500 monthly visits by partnering to develop a customer-facing marketing campaign based on tracking data.

Now what? Marketers can look to Clorox's example to develop strategies that use tracking data to build brand affinity. 


Some of the most effective marketing campaigns not only tout product benefits or have an emotional hook, but also help customers solve a problem. Marketers at the Oakland, Calif.-based Clorox Co.​ were trying to do just that when they set out to help people ward off the aches and pains of the cold and flu virus. Over the past few years, Clorox has tracked the spread of the flu internally via social media mentions and CDC data, providing that data to retailers to help them determine levels of product stock for Clorox’s disinfecting wipes and cleaning products. For the 2015-2016 flu season, the company wanted to use that data for a customer-facing marketing campaign.

“We’ve done a lot of work around trying to educate people on health and wellness during the cold and flu season, on things like washing your hands and getting rest. This year, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to provide more value and utility,” says Molly Steinkrauss, associate marketing director at Clorox. 


Clorox worked with social media expert Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, and found that online conversations about the flu spike a week earlier than the number of confirmed cases by the CDC, and therefore, social media could be used to track the liklihood of flu spreading. The study overlaid weekly data on flu prevalence from the CDC and analyzed more than 1 million tweeks for flu-related terms or hashtags, including "flu," "sickness" and "chicken noodle soup." 

Clorox then worked with Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based business intelligence and data analytics firm Bottlenose and Critical Mass to launch Clorox Cold & Flu Pulse, a system that analyzes social media conversations about the cold and flu and tracks what’s happening with the virus, including topics being discussed and cities where it’s trending. It analyzes millions of tweets in real time.

“Behind those keywords, we see location in terms of where people are talking about the flu and how they’re talking about it. From that, we try to come up with interesting stories for Clorox,” says Josh Pink​, vice president of Bottlenose. “We can isolate that conversation based on certain markets and geographies, and certain audiences. If we just want to look at how females in Texas are talking about the flu, we can.”

People can visit to see the likelihood of flu coming to their area and the top “flu hot spots” around the country, as well as the number of people tweeting about symptoms, and tips for keeping their households clean and stopping the spread of flu. The website also encourages people to use Clorox cleaning products and disinfecting wipes to fight the virus. “We want to educate people about surface disinfection so it’s part of their routine, along with getting the flu shot and staying hydrated and getting rest,” Steinkrauss says. Clorox promoted on its social media channels, through digital advertising and on a bus wrap in New York. 

By analyzing the tweets, Clorox found that people often tweet about binge-watching Netflix when they have the flu; that flu cases spike around the holidays; that exercise correlates to higher flu rates; and that when people tweet about staying late at work, they’re more likely to tweet about having the flu the next week. Clorox uses that data to create content for its social media platforms and articles for its website, including “5 Annoying Sick Days That Everyone Hates Taking” and “5 Healthy Habits for Avoiding the Flu.” “We narrowed it down to the top 100 hashtags and pulled out major themes. We’re creating different content to match the progression of the cold and flu season: when people are in the prevention stage into when somebody in their family gets sick,” Steinkrauss says. “We see the same consistent themes, and a lot of the old wives’ tales about cold and flu are still out there.”

The Clorox Cold & Flu Pulse campaign, which launched in October 2015 and will end in March, generated 3 million social media mentions and 7,500 monthly visits to through December. “We’ve seen positive feedback from people who are using it,” Steinkrauss says. “As a brand, we want to have value for consumers beyond the products. This is more of a service and a tool versus just talking about our product, and it’s in the wheelhouse of what Clorox stands for, which is health and wellness, and stopping the spread of infection.”

Ellie West, digital marketing supervisor at Rockville, Md.-based branding agency HZDG, says that the effort is a creative way to let consumers use flu-tracking data while helping Clorox build brand affinity. “It’s about the consumer taking control of the data. It provides all the information that somebody needs to take an action, beyond Clorox telling you it’s flu season. It gives you an actionable insight … and it’s personalized to where you are and where you’re logging in.” 

Adds Berger: “It’s a perfect fit with the brand. This initiative does a nice job of deepening that link between Clorox and flu prevention. It’s a great example of content marketing, building things that aren’t direct advertisements but build equity for the brand. When people think about preventing the flu, they think about Clorox.”​

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Marketin​g News​​​. ​

Author Bio:
Christine Birkner​
Christine Birkner is the features editor for the AMA. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter @ChristineBirkne.
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