Communicating Public Health: Conversations about the COVID-19 pandemic - Report 3

Social media analysis reveals the challenges and concerns of frontline workers during the first wave of the pandemic according to this third in our series of four reports for Future Care Capital from Ipsos MORI.

The author(s)

  • Sylvie Hobden Public Affairs
  • Steven Ginnis Public Affairs
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While schoolchildren painted rainbows and people sang from balconies or clapped for health and care workers on their doorsteps, many professionals on the frontline of the pandemic turned to social media to express frustration about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing and anxiety about how to safeguard their own families from the Coronavirus.

These findings from social media analysis conducted by Ipsos MORI for Future Care Capital show the significant pressure experienced by health and social care professionals in the first months of the UK pandemic. Ipsos MORI used a combination of machine-led analysis, manual coding, statistical modelling and qualitative investigation to analyse some 19,145 social media posts from health and social care professionals and their representative bodies between 1 February to 31 June.

The analysis offers insight into the experiences of health and social care professionals at a time when many were reportedly forbidden from speaking out publicly about the challenges faced.

Family worries

Overall, almost one in three social media posts from health and social care professionals or representative bodies (29%) emphasised the importance of these key workers. Around one in ten (9%) social media posts analysed were related to health and social care professionals’ concerns about exposing their family to the virus or being separated from them. A small proportion of posts analysed (4%) were related to children and schooling. Taken together, these topics make up 34% of the social media conversation from or about health and social care professionals.

Emotional impact

Social media posts expressing the emotional impact of the pandemic were common, with 3 in 10 posts (31%) relating to this subject. The majority expressed feelings of anger (19%), with fewer expressing feelings of hope (8%) and fear (6%). A smaller proportion of posts (4%) mentioned the mental strain of working through the pandemic, with professionals and representative bodies sharing advice about how to maintain balance and wellbeing.

Public appreciation

Social media data also highlights significant volumes of respect and appreciation for the health and care workforce. Over one fifth (22%) of social media posts from and about health and social care professionals were focused on appreciation for workers, expressing respect (16%), thanks (6%) and mentioning fundraising and donations (3%).

We can see that health and social care professionals expressed concern about both professional and personal circumstances during the pandemic, offering an insight into the extent to which these challenges intersect. It also suggests that there is significant value in allowing health and social care professionals to post online because it enables identification of key learnings at an aggregate and anonymised level that can be applied to bring about improvements in future.

Steven Ginnis, Research Director at Ipsos MORI said:

Social media data provides a valuable 360 perspective on the experience of health and care professionals during the pandemic. For example, a large proportion of posts from health and social care workers described the challenges of supporting and protecting their families and children during the pandemic as they had to contend with balancing their professional responsibilities with their personal responsibilities. The research also points to the value of social media in times of crisis – including a quick means of sharing advice and guidance about best practice, and championing the value of health and social care staff.

The author(s)

  • Sylvie Hobden Public Affairs
  • Steven Ginnis Public Affairs

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