Lessons in mass communication from the coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in the way it is affecting the modern world. The only effective way to deal with it is to get everybody in the same mindset and make sure people take the right, effective measures – no easy task in this age of misinformation. Nevertheless here are some takeaways on what is working well.

1. Sticky names and phrases win

Most people discuss it using the term ‘coronavirus’ even though that refers to the wider family of viruses (including the common cold).  It’s an old term and even shows up as a character name in an Asterix comic.

But the actual name of the virus or disease is harder to say or write, while ‘coronavirus’ meets the stickiness criteria of being simple, concrete and unexpected. Stickier names are more effective for the masses even if they are technically incorrect.

2. Data should tell a story

The pandemic comes with a ton of data from cases across the world. Infographics is the visual representation of data and information in such a way that it tells a story.  Often you don’t have to create elaborate visuals but well chosen data and a few annotations go a long way.  These folks have effectively pulled out key data and used it effectively to make powerful points.

3. Gifs are next level. So is internationalization.

The idea that we should slow the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm our medical systems is a concept that is not intuitive to most. Rosamund Pearce is a Visual Data Journalist who created an image to highlight this concept visually. Others including Thomas Splettstößer did similar and this led to the creation of a powerful gif  by Dr Siouxsie Wiles that was shared far and wide (with the added bonus of multiple translated versions of the gif).

4. Personalization for the win!

Finally one key best practice is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. The original recommendation included a suggestion to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to make this easier to do. Wash Your Lyrics  made it even more fun by allowing folks to do it with their favourite song.

Communicating quickly and effectively to the masses is an essential 20th century skill – for all downsides of coronavirus, this is one place it has brought out the best in folks looking to get the message out rapidly.

(Featured image credit: Corriere.it)

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