BPI Media
Published in

BPI Media

Searching for Answers: COVID-19

by Dan Hoffmann, Will Schoeffler, Laura Hardwick

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has reshaped the way we live and work in profound ways. Brands, organizations and political candidates are navigating uncharted territory. Never before has a single event captured and held attention AND changed the behavior of so many so quickly both in the U.S. and around the world. So, it’s natural that we’re constantly asking questions about it and looking for answers.

To help understand what people across the country are asking and what it can tell brands and campaigns as they continue on, we looked at Google Search data paired with recent polling. Here’s what we learned and what it means for communicators:

The Coronavirus is all-consuming and completely dominating our attention.

It’s hard to overstate just how much of our collective attention is focused on the virus.

It has overshadowed the election. Coronavirus queries outpace all searches for Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders combined over the last 90 days. It’s not even close.

The landscape has changed entirely for candidates up and down tickets — forcing them to adapt their strategies. But that’s also creating new opportunities. Candidates should be focused on how they can speak to the moment across all mediums and engage with communities, who are spending more of their time online, in new and different ways.

It is overtaking popular culture. Searches for the virus outpace the most commonly searched-for celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Antonio Brown and Billie Eilish.

Coronavirus searches even exceed those that include some of the most commonly used words in the English language like “who” and “what,” meaning queries that include these words (i.e. “What are the ingredients in bread?” or “Who is Tiger King?”) are being outpaced by searches like “Symptoms of coronavirus”.

But even the world’s top story can’t hold our attention forever.

There are signs Americans are beginning to lose interest in the story even as the caseload and death count continues to climb in the U.S.

If this trend continues, it may be a clue for content creators and brands that people are looking to return to other content as they become exhausted by virus-related news. It will also challenge communicators in public health and government to ensure people continue to take the situation seriously.

Economic anxiety has spiked in sudden and unprecedented ways.

Search activity was an early predictor of the recent jobless claims report, which showed more than 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in one week — the most in history. Weekly searches for unemployment spiked 10X between March 14th and March 23rd.

Weekly searches for unemployment have now reached a new all time high — 23% higher than the peak of the 2008 financial crisis.

All communicators need to wrap their heads around the extent of this sudden, unprecedented spike in economic anxiety and insecurity, and consider how their messages will be received by the public.

Search trends also give us early clues about the areas of the country that may be hardest hit by the unemployment spike.

  • Heaviest search traffic for “unemployment” is coming from Nevada, Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire and Kentucky.
  • Las Vegas, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, OR, Columbus, OH, Charlotte, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston and Chicago are showing particularly high unemployment related searches.

Partisan news consumption bubbles and localized outbreaks have changed the way Americans see the crisis — there is no universal, national view.

According to Civiqs’ daily tracking poll of Coronavirus concern, Americans’ anxiety levels split across party lines.

Many factors likely contributed to this: President Trump and conservative media consistently played down the problem and the first U.S. hotspots were in liberal strongholds like Washington State, San Francisco, and New York.

Source: NYT Graphics

Once the effects of the coronavirus could be felt nationwide, Republicans’ attitudes shifted sharply. Their anxiety doubled the week after the NBA suspended their season and the stock market’s historic March 12th sell-off.

Media practitioners must realize that there’s no national timeline for Americans to personally experience the effects of COVID-19 — the effects will ripple through the country over the coming weeks.

Perspective check: While work from home is the “new normal” for many, it’s not an option for millions of Americans.

Searches for “work from home” have reached more than 5X their weekly average during the COVID-19 crisis. But it’s important to remember that this flexibility isn’t available to everyone.

The data below puts that into perspective, and is another sign for communicators and organizations that right now is the time to provide utility or levity.

Adding value to people’s lives right now, in whatever way possible, is critically important. The risk of tone-deaf communications is massive, and all communicators should think critically about their plans. For some, it might be time to put previous plans on pause. For others, it might be time to lean into providing value and help to people even more heavily.

Who’s winning the Coronavirus content wars? Zoom.

Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Apple and others have been locked in a battle for the ages to capture Americans’ attention. Netflix is the clear leader overall — and has seen a sharp spike in search interest vs. its average.

But interest in Zoom, the video conferencing service which has become a critical utility for businesses and individuals in this moment of isolation, has skyrocketed since quarantines began in the U.S. Zoom has become a content production and consumption platform. It’s been fascinating to watch people find creative uses for Zoom — for work, for education, and for personal connection.

The considerable increase in video conferencing traffic also hasn’t caused any noticeable technical issues or downtime. The lesson for brands and organizations? Be ready for “primetime” at any moment.

Ultimately, the data reminds us that this is a health crisis first and foremost.

Searches for COVID-19 symptoms like shortness of breath and fever have increased sharply over the last 90 days and are both at all-time highs.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the healthcare workers first responders on the frontlines of the crisis and to the people responsible for keeping essential services up and running. Thank you for all that you do.

For more on how COVID-19 is impacting communications and marketing, check out these pieces from our colleagues at BPI:



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store