As an agency with extensive experience in public and private healthcare, we’ve walked alongside public health agencies and other organizations through public health crises like coronavirus (COVID-19) before, one notable example being the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009. If one marketing channel has the greatest chance of either assuaging fears or creating panic during such crises, it’s social media.
The fast-moving nature of social media combined with the ease of retweeting, regramming, or reposting information (or misinformation) means what you say on social media during times of uncertainty matters.
So how should you handle discussions of coronavirus on social media?
1. Make sure what you are communicating on social media matches your organization’s overall communications strategy for coronavirus.
If your organization works in healthcare or another industry that may be impacted by the virus, your organization has probably done some thinking about how you’ll respond if the virus spreads to your town, your patients or your staff. Make sure whatever approach you’ve agreed upon is echoed in your social media content.
This is important for two reasons.
First, it can be jarring to customers and other stakeholders when an organization’s social media presence doesn’t line up with their website or other communications. It can dilute the brand and cause confusion among your followers.
Second, inconsistent communications across platforms open up your organization to scrutiny from customers, the public and the media. If your website says that COVID-19 isn’t likely to impact your business’s operations but your Facebook posts suggest otherwise, you’ll look uncoordinated and unprepared. That’s the last impression you want to give in a situation like this.
2. Be exceedingly careful with humor and tone when referring to the coronavirus.
You know how people always say you should be careful when discussing politics and religion with people you don’t know very well? We’d add coronavirus to that list.
Remember that people are likely to have a range of emotions attached to the issue. Some people might be scared, while others may think it’s no big deal. We tend to be less formal on social media than if we were, say, meeting with a client or making new acquaintances, so be thoughtful and try to use the same etiquette here.
When speaking about COVID-19 on social media, it’s important to carefully weigh each word. Don’t use a tone that creates undue panic or alarm, and avoid humor unless you truly feel it aligns with your brand (and please, no puns about anything “going viral.”)
3. Make sure anything you post comes from a credible source.
Especially in the age of “fake news,” it’s critical that your organization vets anything that is shared on social media. If the news source isn’t one you’ve heard of, it’s probably not trustworthy. Stick to well-known sources like the CDC, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and publications like the Washington Post or New York Times.
Social media users look to their favorite platforms for sources of information they trust, and in times like these, answers. The last thing you want to do when tensions are already high is to look crass, opportunistic or insensitive, but it’s easier to do that than you may think. In a nutshell, our advice is to be thoughtful, check your sources and give your tweets, posts and messages a second (or third) read before posting.