How are the Leading Companies Talking about Coronavirus?

By Todd Van Etten, Chief Digital Strategist

Last month, as the coronavirus continued to spread around the U.S. and forced many companies and establishments to close their doors, the digital team at The Herald Group fielded dozens of questions from clients about how to adjust their own online messaging. In each case, we put together a thoughtful, tailored response based on many factors including the client’s sector, what the organization is doing to help those in need, and external data points about what was resonating online.

We thought it would be helpful to share some of those findings here. To keep them high level, this analysis looks at the social channels of all Fortune Top 50 companies from March 1 to March 31, specifically the content that contained the words “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” and a dozen or so other terms. Below are a few takeaways from our analysis of these conversations and how they’ve shifted over the past few months.

  1. The conversation is very active. During March there were 823 million impressions of tweets from these companies across the globe. Of note is that these were all organic impressions since Twitter disallowed the promotion of tweets containing coronavirus-related terms. (Twitter subsequently changed that policy later in April.) But clearly their algorithms sensed the timeliness of these messages and increased the distribution to a level that works out to roughly 16.5 million impressions for each company. Importantly, companies were not shy about continuing their social media activity, and in many cases increased their publishing output.
  1. Companies went into “respond” mode. In a departure from the status quo for many large corporate handles, many began replying directly to customers who were complaining about service or worrying about how to make ends meet (these messages are typically handled by a designated support handle). The chart below shows that almost 65% of the tweets fell into the “reply” category, with only 19% going toward original tweets, and 11% going to retweets.
  1. Sentiment matters. If you’ve ever heard me talk about online sentiment you’ll know that I’m fairly dismissive of it, unless you’re talking about very large sample sizes over a long period of time. But even over this relatively short one-month period we saw very clear delineations between “positive” and “negative.”  The bottom line? Empathy is a universal emotion that translates well online, and is absolutely necessary during times like these. The positive keywords include “updates,” “current relief efforts,” “top priority,” and “response,” clearly showing the companies understood the gravity of the situation and how it was affecting customers and employees alike. They conveyed immediacy of action. Negative keywords were mostly driven by the “response” note mentioned above: including “bill,” “service,” and “inability,” where in most cases the brands/corporations discussed the grace period they were extending to those experiencing hardships.

If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I’m not sure if we should be placing messages on digital channels right now,” or “I wonder how the biggest brands and corporations are navigating this crisis online,” we’d love to have a conversation. The Herald Group counsels organizations of all sizes through these questions frequently, and we’d love to start a (virtual) conversation with you. Stay inside and be well.