During the COVID-19 pandemic, universities in the UK used social media to raise awareness and provide guidance and advice about the disease to students and staff. In our latest research, the researchers explain why some universities used social media to communicate with stakeholders sooner than others.
To do so, the team used computer science methods to identify the date of the first COVID-19 related tweet posted by each university in the country and used survival models to estimate the effect of university-specific characteristics on the timing of these messages.
The results published in PLOS ONE, found that universities with larger numbers of students are more likely to use social media and the web to speak about the pandemic sooner than institutions with fewer students. Universities with larger financial resources are also more likely to tweet sooner, but they do not introduce Covid-19 webpages faster than other universities. We also find evidence of a strong process of emulation, whereby universities are more likely to post a coronavirus-related tweet or webpage if other universities have already done so.
Regarding the research, Professor Alejandro Quiroz Flores, deputy director of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (BLG) said ‘As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, higher education institutions emerged as a key source of trust. In order to explore the role of universities in the management of the crisis in the UK, an interdisciplinary team of social and computer scientists at the BLG and London South Bank University joined forces to design one of the first studies of the timing of university crisis communication in the UK during the pandemic.’
‘In one of our most striking results, we find that universities learn from each other. This suggests that there is a space for leadership and an opportunity for coordination during crises, which could allow the system to learn more quickly and respond more effectively to emergencies.
At the BLG, we are particularly proud of this research project, as it is an excellent example of the approach that the Centre and its partners use to understand crucial policy challenges using data and rigorous quantitative and computational methods.’
In addition to Professor Alejandro Quiroz Flores, the research was completed by senior research officers Dr Farhana Liza, Dr Husam Quteineh and Associate Professor Dr Barbara Czarnecka.