There’s a town in Pennsylvania that is known for its unusually low rate of heart disease. The inhabitants of Roseto had nearly no heart attacks in the mid-twentieth century and research concluded that it was their strong sense of community that was responsible for the good health and long lives. This is known as the Roseto effect.
The value of having strong communities is universal. We all flourish when we live, share and grow together. Communities enable emotional support, an exchange of knowledge and skills, friendships and a sense of belonging. Throughout history, communities have offered comfort in difficult times - whether it’s the resistance during World War II, Extinction Rebellion activists, or the public response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s finding solidarity in disaster.
COVID-19 is the biggest disaster of our generation. It’s led to an economic collapse, and public health crisis, with major repercussions across the globe. As we are urged to stay indoors and avoid getting close to one another, how do we tap into this sense of community and practice the shared humanity and cultural values that hold us together?
The over-abundance of misinformation about the coronavirus has become an info-pandemic in its own right, and social media continues to be criticised for its chronic spread. And understandably so. The amplification of fake news, conspiracy theories, and even racism have flamed mass panic, confirming the fears and prejudices of all who see it.
But there’s another side to social media - one that shows the true support system it’s able to offer. Not only has social media been a valuable tool in getting important information out (as seen in China, despite their own censorship), it has also been instrumental in helping communities around the world connect. Especially when they’re unable to do so IRL. The connecting power of social media has been incredibly powerful.
One study from influencer agency Obviously found that there’s been a 22% increase in Instagram campaign impressions from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020, and a 27% jump in engagement on average on TikTok from February to March. On Twitter, people have been light-heartedly sharing screenshots of the excessive time they’ve spent online - many spending over 12 hours a day on social networks... in search of connection.
Over the weekend, Lizzo led a mass meditation for her 8.4 million Instagram followers to “promote healing during this global crisis.” Urging her fans to be safe and responsible, she adds, “We can’t be afraid of each other, so that means we have to be doing the right things to be safe: face masks, washing hands… So we’re going to take all of this fear and transmute it into love.”
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As the virus continues to cancel concert events, artists like John Legend, Chris Martin, Pink and many others, are taking to social media to deliver live performances to their followers. Influencers, celebrities and social media platforms are partnering with the World Health Organisation to ensure they deliver timely and accurate information with tips on staying safe and preventing the spread of the virus.
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And on my own social accounts, I’ve seen floods of support for those who are vulnerable - friends offering to get shopping for those unable to leave their house; personal trainers creating free online workouts from home; downloadable postcards from Facebook groups being popped through letterboxes using hashtags such as #HowCanIHelp, and Instagram accounts at the We Are Social Italy office for our colleagues to share recipes and ideas for cooking under quarantine. Skype book clubs, local support groups on WhatsApp, IG Live bootcamps, and Twitter watch-parties mean I’m more connected and more social than ever before. I’m in a loving virtual neighbourhood.
We are all learning how to become part of a new culture. And that includes brands. The significant economic consequences of COVID-19 means that people are losing work and are therefore buying less stuff. So to avoid being tone deaf to the only conversation everyone is having right now, brands must find their own place in this culture.
That does not mean toy companies should be sending out capitalising marketing emails entitled, “Staying Inside? We’ve Got Everything You Need!” Or a clothing company should be offering 15% off its ‘Stay At Home Essentials’ - two of many emails I received this week.
Twitter warned brands “this is not a ‘marketing opportunity’.” And many of them have listened. This week, perfume giant LVMH started producing hand sanitiser instead of the usual Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy make-up and scents at three of its factories in France. Announcing plans to produce 26,500 pounds of hand sanitiser to be distributed free to French hospitals. Supermarkets are opening early to allow older shoppers to buy food when it is quieter; McDonald’s is giving away free drinks to NHS and emergency service staff; and, along with a huge number of food chains, Pret A Manger and Leon are showing their gratitude to the NHS in similar ways.
These, and many other brands have shown how progressive, brave, improvisational and altruistic responses have come to the fore in solidarity. What we have seen in this crisis, and all disasters throughout history, is that we are a collective species that thrives in community. And as the old rules fall apart and the status quo collapses, for a brief moment in time, we put our differences aside and come together with a shared sense of responsibility.
Social media has enabled us to protect and preserve the spirit of community in a time when we’re told to stay away from each other. By harnessing it openly and authentically, we can create global networks of inspiration, support, empathy and kindness - values that bring us as close together as possible.
This article was written by our Interim Head of Editorial in London, Natalie Barnes.