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It takes a community to effectively spread evidence-based COVID-19 messaging

Over the past few months, I’ve been very much impressed with the COVID-19 related communications coming out of my local health unit, Ottawa Public Health (OPH). Their work on both Facebook and Twitter has been exceptional. Specifically, what really sets them apart from many other health organizations at the moment is the tone being used to convey important COVID-19 information. Rather than the dry top-down comms of old, I would describe their comms as a smart blend of witty humour and light-touch sarcasm, all the while remaining professional, open and empathetic, in an environment where health information changes rapidly as new evidence comes in. This is definitely no easy endeavour, especially with the existence of difficult online personalities, many of whom essentially wait for OPH to contradict themselves on an earlier message in an effort to discredit everything they are doing (instead of acknowledging the fluidity of this topic). I can see how it can be tough to stay motivated but thankfully OPH has stayed on course and their efforts are now clearly paying off.

Here are a few of my favourite OPH tweets…

Friendly jab at Toronto, home of Ottawa’s rival hockey team…

Cheeky response to news of certain residents berating cashiers…

Poking fun at conspiracy theorists…

All of these may seem trivial in the greater scheme of things, but when you take a step back to see the birds-eye view of how catchy health information like this spreads, the network effects of maximizing the visibility of credible health info can be tremendous, especially when influential accounts from other communities are lured in to participate.

To better illustrate this, I performed a quick data pull and community visualization using social network analysis techniques of nearly 12,ooo tweets mentioning @OttawaHealth or @OttawaSante over the course of 4 weeks (June 17-July 7, 2020). As seen in the slide I created below, there are nearly 7,000 unique users interacting with the Ottawa Health account from a variety of closely-knit communities. Each one of these accounts helps expose the content from Ottawa Public Health to their own respective followers and communities, in an exponential fashion. It’s worth noting that at present time, most of the fringe conspiracy/disinformation accounts tend to be drowned out to the periphery and/or to their own small, like-minded community clusters, however, they should be monitored for growth on a regular basis as they can grow rapidly to form a disproportional footprint, especially if they use black-hat bot-driven techniques (see my presentation on the anti-vaxxer community).

For those interested, I’ve also created an interactive web-based version of the graph below (although not as pretty and without a legend) and a hi-res image of just the graph. Feel free to shoot me a DM on twitter (@mikekujawski) if you have any questions.

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Published inCOVID-19

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