The ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic is far from the threat it was. We must remember it as a genuine threat – 14,711 died worldwide, with 390 of those in the UK – but now the government response is being scaled back.
COI was proud to play its part in spearheading efforts to educate the public about the pandemic and keep the information flowing as the situation unfolded. The virus was unpredictable and as this was the first pandemic of the digital age there was limited scope for communications planning and our efforts had to be flexible and fleet of foot.
From April 2009, I led a small COI Interactive team tasked with coordinating the ‘owned’ and earned’ digital media response; but with the general scaling back, I have now been ‘stood down’ and assigned to other campaigns and projects.
There will be formal evaluation efforts to properly assess the contribution made by government communications in limiting the impact of the virus. The aim will be to capture lessons learned. From my vantage, the integrated communications worked well – alongside a healthy dose of responsible coverage by the media – and those contributing to the digital efforts should be pleased with the results.
Still, having had opportunity to reflect, I’d recommend 10 additions to our response:
- Place at least as much importance on mobile and web as any other media
- Create one UK site for the public to access official information, advice, services and updates
- Establish a centralised and automated repository to gather stats from all relevant public sector websites, and make these available as ‘raw’ reports and dashboards
- Intervene in the social web to correct misformation, answer questions and build up engagement with the general public through regular webchats and podcasts
- Provide ‘toolkits’ of content and apps for bloggers and community site managers, including – for example – symptom checkers
- Use mobile to distribute updates and access codes to key at-risk groups
- Encourage peer-to-peer exchange of official information and messaging through social network apps – for example ‘I’ve taken the following measures, so should you’
- Release as many raw data sets and visualisations as possible to demonstrate spread and status
- Collate local situation updates and make available through a centralised application
- Use social media monitoring to optimise editorial content and tactical paid-for-search activity
In summary, future pandemic communications ought to benefit from a single destination site for all citizens, use of the social web and mobile to encourage engagement with official sources, more automated collection and sharing of data, and a greater frequency of content updates using all available rich media.