Study shows 94% of UK unis had tweeted concerns about Covid before first lockdown

By the end of January, 41 UK universities had communicated to their students via Twitter about Covid-19

A new study highlights how UK universities acted more rapidly, communicating coronavirus concerns and advice quicker than the UK government.

New research conducted by academics from LSBU and the University of Essex shows that 94% (148/158) of UK universities had tweeted about Covid-19, prior to the announcement of the first national lockdown in March last year.

The study claims that, even before the Government initiated lockdown, “universities used Twitter proactively for crisis communications, to raise awareness and provide advice to their staff and students during the pandemic”.

The research, which was collected from January to May 2020, found that a total of 41 universities had already tweeted about Covid-19 in January 2020, a further 25 in February, and an additional 82 in March, all before the announcement of lockdown.

Dr Barbara Czarnecka, Associate Professor of Marketing at LSBU and co-author of this study, has said: “At a time when the UK government was relatively slow to act at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, universities were forced to take matters into their own hands.  Our research shows that, around 94% of UK universities tweeted about Covid-19 before the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020. By taking positive action at the start of the crisis and initiating communication with their staff and students, universities were confirming their key role as public sources of trust.”

The findings of this research, conducted on the basis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), also show a number of  trends:

“Universities with large numbers of students …were more likely to use social media and their own websites to speak about the pandemic sooner than institutions with fewer students;”

“Universities with large financial resources …were also more likely to tweet sooner, but they did not introduce Covid-19 webpages faster than other universities;”

“The first university to tweet anything about Covid-19 was London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a constituent college of University of London (9 January), followed by University of Greenwich (21 January) and Kingston University (23 January). Subsequently, 11 universities tweeted on 24 January.

“By the end of January, 41 UK universities had tweeted about Covid-19. Typically, these universities were either giving advice about what to do in the case staff or students were diagnosed with the virus, or confirming there had been no cases on campus so far;”

“6 March was the day 18 universities tweeted about Covid-19 for the first time – the highest number to tweet on a single day by that date;”

“By 20 March at the start of the first lockdown when ‘stay at home’ orders were announced, ten universities still had not tweeted about Covid-19.”