GSK, Weather Channel and Sickweather team up for cold and flu-tracking app

By Heather Mack
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Watching a weather app to see if a cold front is coming in has taken on a new meaning: The Cold and Flu Tracker app, where people can get updates on cold and flu activity at a hyperlocal level, is now available to users thanks to a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare’s Theraflu and the Weather Company.

Beyond mixing sickness with weather, the app is also part of GSK’s overall campaign to launch the new Theraflu ExpressMax Caplets, and the Theraflu brand will also be the company’s first to leverage IBM Watson advertising. Through the websites or on their smartphone, consumers will have the ability to interact with the Theraflu ad via voice or text and ask Watson questions such as, “How long is the flu contagious?” which Watson’s chatbot will respond to.

“Weather’s Cold and Flu Tracker is a truly unique and powerful concept that gives the consumers the opportunity to get ahead and be prepared for the flu season as much as possible,” Theresa Agnew, chief marketing officer for GSK Consumer Healthcare said in a statement. “The combination of social sentiment and cognitive learning will not only inform and advise consumers, but it will provide fantastic insights for the marketing team as well as in terms of knowing when to merchandise and market the Theraflu brand in different areas throughout the country.”

The app’s data comes from Sickweather, a real-time, crowd-sourced illness map of sickness and the Center for Disease Control. Normally, people can only be made aware of cold and flu activity when the weekly CDC flu report is released. With the app, which is available on weather.com, Theraflu.com and the Weather Channel app, users can now know in near-real time when sickness is sprouting up in their area and take action to protect themselves.

“Social media is often the first place cold and flu outbreaks become evident, and it’s the only place where we can track them in real-time,” Sickweather’s CEO Graham Dodge said in a statement. “Working with the Weather Company to surface these outbreak areas to their wider audience could have huge positive implications.”

In addition to preventing everyday illness from causing missed work or school, Dodge said the app could also be particularly helpful for senior citizens and medically fragile populations, when common conditions like cold or flu could actually become life-threatening illnesses.

“The more people with access to this information, the more people there will be proactively making healthier choices to prevent themselves and other from getting sick,” said Dodge.

When Sickweather launched in 2011 it was built on the premise that people on social media tend to overshare. Using data from social media, it would identify the presence of sick friends by using an algorithm to look for keywords like “bronchitis,” “pneumonia,” and “pertussis”.

This isn’t Sickweather’s first time partnering with a major pharmaceutical company. Last year, they made their API available to Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer Healthcare to release an app called Healthyday, which informed users about cold, flu and allergy trends.

The Weather Channel partnership takes Sickweather a little deeper into the eye of the sickness storm than Healthyday, which also pulled data from various social media sites to provide illness information. If users want to access the tracker through the Weather Channel App, they can go through the health module, which will include a dial for current local cold and flu conditions, a heat map of hyperlocal cold and flu activity, and current and historical CDC reports.

If users go to weather.com or Theraflu.com, they will have access to an interactive map with national and local cold and flu activity based on sentiment data to show where cold and flu conversations are happening across the country. They will also have access to the CDC reports, local weather forecasts and other relevant cold and flu seasonal content.

The Weather Company already offers many insights beyond just weather, including apps or information that integrates weather with outdoor activities, history, soil conditions for farming, travel and more. Jeremy Steinberg, global head of sales for the Weather Company, said the company is always looking for ways to “engage, educate and delight our fans.”
 
“Our new Cold and Flu Tracker will help our fans get ahead of flu activity as much as possible, and by doing that, we know we’re adding tremendous value to their experience with us,” Steinberg said in a statement.