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Campaign Showcase: Rethinking social media to outpace the spread of COVID-19

Blog posted by: Rob Kirk, COVID-19 communications hub, 24 March 2022.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) necessitated the biggest communication and information campaign in the 100-year history of Government Communications. 

Right from the start, it was clear that our communications response would need to be rapid and agile to keep pace with the virus. It was equally important that we could reach every person in the UK to engage them with critical information that they could trust, providing the latest advice on how to help stop the spread of the virus and save lives.3 examples of COVID-19 Snapchat adverts produced by the communications team.
Imagery of an animated social advert story board from the “Stop Covid Hanging Around” campaign.

Social Media’s Key Role 

As part of an integrated campaign, social media was identified as the best channel to keep pace with the rapidly evolving operational response and health advice to the public and businesses. 

We had to rethink our social media planning and delivery to be more agile, in a way that was previously unthinkable. This led us to the big question: 

How do we communicate multiple messages in a timely and flexible manner in order to impact a large audience, and crucially – how do we get to hard to reach audiences such as youth and multicultural groups?

Establishing a simple framework

First, we established 3 principles: 

  1. Reach: go big and maximise the ad-to-content ratio and try and be a single advertiser in the feed for maximum impact.
  2. Relevance: be new, be where the audience is and be mobile: explore new platforms and formats for every device, and leverage new innovations to continuously engage audiences.
  3. Reactive: be dynamic and timely to adapt to the rapidly changing environment and public health advice.  

We then held daily pulse meetings to act as a “digital control centre” where we could fast track innovation and optimise our activity in real time.  

Over the 2 years, it’s impossible to list all that we worked on and achieved, but some of the highlights by the team have been: 

  • we became the first in government for takeovers on TikTok and Reddit as their audiences grew rapidly.  
  • we tapped into the spirit of community with Nextdoor when local restrictions came in, to geo-target messaging and driving a reach of 12 million around the country. 
  • we worked with Snapchat to use their Lenses, which was especially good for AR face coverings (check out our Santa Mask filter) – you can scan the QR code with your phone.
  • we worked with Google for their new format “conversation ad”.  A Chatbot that engaged searches with deeper information on COVID-19 vaccines.

Unprecedented scale of delivery

Over the 2 years that this campaign has been running, I’ve been amazed by the scale of what we achieved – both as a key stream within our advertising but also as a way for us to engage with the hardest to reach audiences.

  • Since February 2020 we delivered over 19 billion impressions and 95 million clicks to government/NHS sites
  • We drove incremental unique reach by diversified spend across 7 social platforms including 3 new platforms to government communications. TikTok and Snapchat emerged as key to hitting our “invincible youth” audiences.
  • Social has been highlighted as providing the public with accurate information from government and helped contribute to widespread public health messaging. 
  • A core strategy of organic boosting first and analysing to optimise the paid reached 46.3 million. This delivered a timely message to audiences and drove over 82 million post engagements. 

For me, the greatest learning is that by having a cross government agency team working closely together and in constant communication, that even during incredibly tough and challenging times you can push though real innovation. 

This is the first of our new Campaign Showcase series, which will replace Campaign of the Month and allow us to share examples of best practice more frequently and celebrate the great work of more of our GCS colleagues. From next week, Campaign Showcase will be exclusively posted on the GCS Linkedin Channel. Follow us on Linkedin.

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