What social media tells us about sentiment during COVID-19

Marketers and PR professionals need to be able to read the room during a crisis like this.

It's always important for marketers and PR professionals to know what people are talking about during a crisis, let alone one like the novel coronavirus which has bigger, farther reaching implications than most others. Based on data taken from social analytics platform ListenFirst, here are five things that were found.

People are becoming less fearful

Based on analysis of conversations on Twitter, the general population is not becoming more fearful about the coronavirus, they're just becoming more aware of it at scale.

Looking at the beginning of the outbreak through the first day that the first person outside of China was diagnosed with the virus (January 1-13) there were 48.7K Tweets mentioning the coronavirus with 27% of those tweets expressing fear.

After that point, there were 46.7 million more tweets mentioning the coronavirus between January 14-February 28, and during that period the level of fear in Tweets talking about the coronavirus has remained remarkably static, between 15%-16%.

Reactions are turning towards anger and sadness

In January, tweets about the coronavirus expressed sadness 5% of the time and anger 1% of the time. By the period of February 22-28, this had risen to 7% and 3% respectively. As more fatalities are reported, the social media reaction is only going to get sadder and audiences will only get angrier about governments handling the outbreak.

Anti-Chinese racism has become an issue

Racism has been an active issue around the outbreak on social media. The most viral tweet about the coronavirus generating 747,616 Responses which read "i just overheard this little white girl in starbucks say "china has too many ppl anyways what's so bad about coronavirus..."

Additionally, since the coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency, looking at January 30 - February 28, Twitter sentiment around Chinese people has been negative by a measure of 42%.

APAC audiences are aware about high-risk areas

Social media users are aware of who's at high risk, even when that doesn't match where cases are already reported.

Between February 15-29, the five Asian countries tweeting the most about the coronavirus were Thailand, Japan, South Korea, The Philippines, and Indonesia in that order. South Korea has had more than 5,600 cases of the coronavirus and appears to be the new center of the epidemic while Japan has over 1,000 cases so their chatter makes sense as well.

On the other hand, Indonesia didn't get their first two confirmed cases of the coronavirus until March, but due to the large number of Chinese visitors Indonesia gets around both tourism and business, scientists have long warned it's statistically impossible that the coronavirus wasn't already in the country. Indonesians were already concerned Indonesia could have an unreported epidemic.

Reactions are less focused on China

As the virus has spread, the conversation around the outbreak has evolved on social media. In January at the beginning of the crisis, the city of Wuhan was the topic most associated with the virus on Twitter, with pneumonia being the top negative association.

By the period of February 22-28, pandemic replaced Wuhan as the topic most associated with coronavirus, with South Korea becoming the next most associated topic. As the rate of the coronavirus spreading in China has slowed, the conversation has become more focused on new outbreaks.

Likewise, 'In Charge' and 'The Stock Market' became top fear-based associations around the coronavirus, as some people were worried that the American president wasn't taking the outbreak seriously enough and were worried about a large stock market crash, potentially the country's worst in 12 years.

Tracy David is CMO at ListenFirst


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