The Latest on Social Media and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus written newspaper

Lance Concannon Lance Concannon, Marketing Director, Europe

In February, we covered some of the ways social media has been reacting to the coronavirus. Since that time, many new developments have occurred such as many more cases diagnosed and the disease being labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronavirus has been one of the leading trends on Twitter and other sites for the past few weeks. Let’s look at some of the ways social media is impacting the situation as well as how businesses can best respond.

Sharing Both Helpful Information and Fake News
On a positive note, social media has made it possible to circulate the latest news and findings regarding the disease. This includes the most recent statistics, travel restrictions as well as advice. Twitter and Facebook are especially useful for sharing information on a local as well as national and global levels. For example, updates about cancellations, whether of school, workplaces or public events can be shared quickly on social media. While these communications are also shared by email and other channels, social media is often the fastest way to reach people.

Misinformation on social media is an ongoing problem. When dealing with a serious illness, the implications can be quite harmful. A recent viral post on Facebook, allegedly from Stanford Medicine, contains a list of ways to diagnose and manage coronavirus. As it turned out, the post was not from Stanford and contains quite a bit of misinformation. For example, the post claimed that drinking warm water will cure the virus, a completely unsubstantiated claim. During a crisis, it’s difficult for well-intentioned organizations to identify reliable information. There are often confusing and contradictory reports. With the coronavirus, some of this is because the virus originated in China, where the internet is highly controlled.

Even in countries with more open media, it can be difficult to separate facts from rumors. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms are attempting to monitor the flow of information about the situation. Facebook is removing as many fake posts as it can find while also providing free space for the WHO to provide up-to-date information. Both Twitter and YouTube are placing links to reputable sources of information such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under posts and videos about the coronavirus.

Social media moves at a rapid pace with millions of posts appearing each hour, making it impossible to identify every questionable item. Part of the effort has to do with educating the public, not only about staying healthy but about researching information. There are relatively few bad actors who actively spread false information. They rely on well-intentioned people who don’t bother to verify the content. Very often, doing a quick Google search is enough to find out whether something is real or fake.

How Businesses Can Use Social Media During this Crisis
The virus is clearly having a serious effect on the economy. Many public events are being canceled. People are staying in and not going out to malls, restaurants and shopping areas. This is a time when the internet and social media are more important than ever. There are several ways that businesses can adapt to this situation.

  • Make more products available online. One effect of a pandemic is that people are spending more time indoors. This means that they are more dependent than ever on digital goods and services. Currently, many people are stockpiling toilet paper and many are complaining they can’t even find it on Amazon. Whether this type of panic buying is rational or not is beside the point. What is relevant is that more customers than ever will be shopping online.
  • Offer delivery services. If you have any type of local business, it’s a good time to offer as many ways as possible for your customers to shop online. This includes local brick and mortar businesses. For example, restaurants and cafes can offer online ordering and delivery.
  • Provide services online. Many services that are traditionally provided in person can also be offered online. In fact, online therapy, coaching and tutoring is already fairly common. During this crisis, it makes sense to offer services online even to local customers. Almost any service that involves teaching or sharing information can be offered online, whether through webinars, Skype sessions, or online chat programs.
  • Hold online events. As public events are canceled, there’s a strong incentive to create virtual events. For example, anyone planning a conference, concert or lecture can turn it into a virtual event or webinar. The technology is already in place to hold many more events online.
  • Transparency is crucial. For all businesses, there’s a strong need for communicating with customers and letting them know about precautions you’re taking and any changes to your hours, services and offerings. This is less applicable to businesses that are strictly web-based such as SEO, IT, graphic design and such. However, anyone who deals with the public in person needs to provide customers with as much information as possible.

For all these strategies, social media is key for engaging with customers. If you’re offering new services or online events, expanding your e-commerce offerings or making any changes to your business model, it’s vital to communicate this as swiftly as possible. Social media pages and news feeds are among the best ways to do this.

Stay Informed and Consider the Public Mood
The situation with the coronavirus is changing daily. The impact is also likely to vary in different countries and regions. It’s therefore essential to stay as informed as possible. Businesses need to pay close attention not only to the reality of what’s happening but to how their customers are reacting. People don’t always behave rationally when they’re frightened. Thus, many of the above tips may remain valid well after the actual danger passes. You may find that many customers remain extra cautious about going out, shopping and attending public events well into the future. Fortunately, there are now many tools and technologies to reach customers that don’t require them to physically enter your place of business.