Influencing the fight against Covid-19

Emily Ackland

15 Apr 2020

Our world as we know it has changed (understatement of the year, I know). Now we work from home, hang out with friends and family online and go outside once a day to exercise.

We’re collectively social distancing in a bid to flatten the curve. While we’re inside and at home, we’re also spending more time online – screen time is up 76% since the pandemic started.

Social media usage figures in particular have spiked since the Covid-19 outbreak. Time spent on Facebook and Instagram is up by 36%. As we’ve been scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, we’ve likely come across posts, videos or stories from influencers telling us to #stayathome.

Social networks have been criticised in the past for not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news. In the new reality we’re facing, using social networks to share reliable information is arguably more important than ever before.

Communicating in the time of coronavirus – traditional or non-traditional media, that is the question  

Governments and NGOs have been working around the clock to keep the public updated on the latest advice and safety guidelines. However, their advice and information might not be reaching a younger demographic through more traditional media.

This has led some governments to recruit a new group of partners in the fight against Covid-19 – influencers (including bots).

Through influencers, governments can reach millions of Millennials and Gen Zs who might not get their news through traditional sources.

As of January this year, two-thirds of Instagram users were 34 years old or younger. Out of those, 30% are 18-24. Demographics are similar on TikTok – more than half of its users are under 34 years old.

#StayatHome – making health & safety advice sharable  

When it came to recruiting influencers for a coronavirus-related campaign, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was one of the first. Dubbed the ‘safe hands challenge’, celebrities like Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and Brazilian footballer Kaká posted videos of themselves washing their hands for the recommended 40 seconds.

This encouraged others to post their own videos on TikTok and Instagram – the #SafeHandsChallenge hashtag was used 500 million times in two days.

Recently, the WHO has turned to bot-influencer Knox Frost to remind his followers to practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly. ‘From’ Atlanta, Knox has encouraged his more than 1.1 million followers to donate to the WHO’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Meanwhile, the Finnish government has taken its work with influencers a step further. Influencers are now categorised as ‘critical operators’, meaning they’re in the same group as doctors, supermarket workers and public transport drivers.

As part of Finland’s crisis response, influencers have access to government announcements that have been specifically formatted to fit social platforms. Consultancy PING Helsinki distributes these to more than 1,500 influencers who can use the content and imagery.

This initiative goes a long way to ensure critical information reaches an audience that might not get their news from traditional sources. At the same time, the government is working to stop the spread of fake news by empowering influencers with information and content relevant for their platforms. A win-win.

With great power (and reach) comes great responsibility

Arming influencers with factual content and information during this time is vital. Knowledge is power.

Yet, a new study by Oxford’s Reuters Institute found that politicians and celebrities shared 20% of fake news around coronavirus. Due to their massive reach, 69% of total social engagement came from their posts.

We’ve all undoubtedly seen news around 5G towers set alight due to misinformation about Covid-19 and fifth generation networks. Thankfully, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are doubling down on their efforts to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms.

Influencing the future of crisis response

It’s inspiring to see that some forward-thinking governments and NGOs are working with influencers to promote public safety messages across social platforms.

Not only is this going a long way to reach younger audiences who may not watch or read traditional media, it’s a key part of the process to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and fake news.

That being said, there’s still a long way to go to stop fake news on social media. It’s promising that influencers are working together with NGOs, governments and social platforms during the pandemic and it will be interesting to see how these collaborations evolve after the world is no longer immersed in a global pandemic.