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Special Project

Special Project
From the 7th Annual Shorty Awards

CNN Answers Your Ebola Questions

Entered in Integration with Live Television


On October 1, 2014, CNN's social team woke up to see their social news feeds flooded with people asking for more information around Ebola. The first US case of the disease was confirmed the previous evening, and with resources around the globe and deep in the medical community, it was clear that the network could contribute to the discussion. Within an hour, CNN's social team gathered key stakeholders to produce one of the most successful, socially driven, cross-platform initiatives ever produced.

More than 10,000 people asked questions, and nearly 180 million people around the world saw the social content. By focusing our resources around a single hashtag, #EbolaQandA, the initiative provided a service to the public; informed CNN's reporting to focus on the key concerns of the audience; and it gave context and analysis to a global story.

What's more, CNN didn't just take the answers and use them in on-air reporting. Our health experts answered questions directly on social media, and the most common questions were packaged and distributed in multiple ways online.

Strategy and Execution

Of all the different news organizations on Twitter, CNN receives the most mentions on a daily basis. When news of an Ebola victim coming to the United State broke, users turned to us at a higher rate, seeking answers to their questions. We knew we had to take the lead and respond to their concerns quickly. That's when we developed #EbolaQandA as a socially-driven, cross-platform reporting initiative.

We used the hashtag across mobile, social, digital and television as an open call for questions surrounding the Ebola outbreak. Then we gathered the responses and published the answers on a variety of different publishing channels.

The result was a huge success. Based on stats from Twitter Binder, the hashtag reached nearly 180 MILLION people around the world, and more than 10,000 tweets directly asked CNN questions. There was also great engagement on the Facebook posts, with those about Ebola generating more than 2,500 shares.

Answers were customized to the audience on each social network and platform. We had dedicated staff answering questions in replies to tweets and in the comments on Facebook. Bigger themes were quickly spotted and turned into television segments and videos, which were then distributed back on social. Wire copy was written based on the most common questions and distributed to hundreds of affiliates around the world. The goal was to reach as many people as possible with sensible information about a topic that terrified many.

The team also chose to not self-brand the hashtag. We wanted to make it as open and accessible to everyone, while still owning the conversation.

Within an hour of news breaking, we had television producers, our health correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, homepage editors and digital producers on board to get the word out about the project. Everyone knew what we wanted to achieve and were on board with helping get the call to action out to the audience.

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