The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented public health and economic challenges for global society. However, it also provides opportunities to show that new types of collaboration are not only possible, but that they can be implemented very quickly with the focused allocation of resources and expertise. In these uncertain times, prompt access to information is critical to the safety, efficiency and sustainability of the entire healthcare system. The volume of COVID-19 conversation, especially on Twitter, has exploded since the outbreak began, and it is critical for healthcare leaders to be able to cut through the noise, understand the landscape, and make informed decisions. We believe strongly that W2O has a role to play in meeting this need – by leveraging our technology-enabled analytics platform.

We recently became a sustaining partner in the California Life Sciences Association, the state’s largest and most influential life sciences advocacy and business leadership organization, with W2O Group President and Managing Partner Paulo Simas joining the Board of Directors. We’re proud to share the first collaborative effort to come out of our partnership: a unique platform, powered by W2O analytics, that provides a one-stop source of curated COVID-19 information, enabling anyone to track and share the most relevant content and voices about COVID-19.

This platform, COR, provides several “slices” of information that users can explore. The platform is refreshed every 60 seconds and only analyzes posts that mention the coronavirus. It can be browsed through the following lenses:

Coronavirus – Topline, unfiltered posts from all of Twitter about the coronavirus

California – Posts that either: (a) mention a major city, any county, or the entire state of California; or (b) come from handles operated by California state or local government channels

Life Sciences – Posts that either: (a) mention a life sciences company (not limited to or inclusive of all CLSA members); or (b) come from handles operated by a life sciences company

HCPs – Posts that come from handles operated by healthcare providers (HCPs) (i.e., physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, etc.)

Media – Posts that come from handles operated by major media outlets and personalities with a focus on healthcare

We will launch additional features and lenses to the COR dashboard in the coming weeks, including COVID-19 data and preprints being shared by respected researchers and scientists, as well as communications from global and local health officials. So please look for more announcements as we roll these out.

We invite you to explore this new platform and let us know what you think. We see it as an essential tool that will help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus by enabling easy access to the latest information about the pandemic from reliable sources.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

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A window into how healthcare organizations can connect with key stakeholders at a time of distraction, confusion

For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here

The last month has been nothing short of surreal.

A little more than four weeks ago, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was something we witnessed through the lens of our televisions and the internet as citizens across Asia and Europe were struggling to treat patients and manage the spread of a previously unknown virus. Fast forward to today and, in the United States, our entire lives have been upended. Restaurants, bars, stores and theaters are closed, social distancing has become a part of our everyday lexicon, grocery store shelves are nearly empty, the stock market is plummeting, and sports have been cancelled at every level.

We are now restricted to our homes until the rate of the spread of the virus is contained.

While the world struggles with how to deal with this global pandemic, organizations find themselves in a tenuous position. Employees are now working from home, which presents challenges to productivity, effectiveness and confidence as they try to juggle their personal lives with professional responsibilities. Customers expect brands to do more in this environment as the government struggles to provide the services and support necessary to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Given the uncertainty around how far and wide the virus will spread, investors across the United States are looking to turn their investments into cash. Supply chains are being disrupted with fewer employees working in warehouses and normal shipping methods are being disrupted. Customers, concerned about the economy and their livelihoods, are holding onto whatever cash they have.

At the intersection of this new reality, marketers and communicators are struggling to protect the reputation of the companies they work for. What is the policy for a virtual workforce? How will we staff critical functions to better support patients, customers, suppliers, etc. How will we support organizations involved in producing drugs to treat COVID-19?  What will we do for employees with vulnerable family members? What should we be saying to the marketplace that is meaningful?

And so on.

In effect, how can my organization remain relevant in the midst of such a crisis? Being relevant was already challenging with digital channels exploding exponentially over the last 10+ years, the number of audiences they were serving growing at the same rate of speed, greater demand to do more with less investment, and growing competition from all sectors of the market. Even with all that, the primary job of protecting reputation has never been more important – or more challenging. How do you do that, though, while investor sentiment drops, your customers are not nearly as engaged as they were even two months ago, and your employees are dealing with more than they have ever dealt with before?

It is our perspective that, in a social/digital world, companies that are not connecting or engaging with key stakeholders have lost relevance with the people who could shape the brand and move the business. In effect, if you are not relevant, you don’t exist.

The companies that maintain a high level of relevance with their key stakeholders are constantly mindful of closing the gap between what they want to say and what their stakeholders want to hear. Never has that been more critical than during this pandemic.

With that lens in place, we refocused our W2O Relevance Framework, the analytically driven framework that is designed to assess an organization’s and brand’s stakeholder relevance, to address the following:

  • Do we understand our stakeholders in terms of concerns, interests and priorities?
  • Do our employees believe in our premise?
  • Does our positioning resonate with all of our key stakeholders? How?
  • Is the potential value of our business meaningful to media, employees and investors?
  • How relevant are we compared to direct competitors, a few aspirational comparators, and hundreds of other companies?
  • Are people searching for information about our business?
  • Are people engaging with our content online?
  • How are employees rating us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Do people support our CEO?
  • How are financial analysts rating us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are policymakers talking about us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are influencers, buyer segments and the healthcare ecosystem, talking about us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are we ahead of the curve on new thinking?

With the novel coronavirus impacting everyone and everything, now is a critical time for corporations to be actively addressing the above questions with swift and decisive action in order to maintain and increase relevance.

COVID-19 Relevance Analysis Insights

The W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis provides organizations with a roadmap to assess the current situation with an eye toward growing tighter connections with the people who shape their businesses every day. What does that roadmap look like? What are the elements that have made companies relevant to their stakeholders as they deal with this pandemic?

In looking at healthcare organizations, we learned:

  • Relevance Now is About Sensitivity, Empathy and Action. The most relevant companies demonstrate these characteristics in both their communications and decision-making.
  • Relevance Strengthens Organizational Confidence. Employees working in a virtual environment tend to question value with the loss of community and networking. Being relevant with stakeholders improves overall confidence as an enterprise.
  • Collaboration is Emerging as a Key Relevance Driver. Companies exhibiting internal collaboration, working with regulators and policy makers, and partnering with philanthropic organizations are viewed more favorably in this environment.
  • Timing and Information Makes All the Difference. What companies say and provide publicly is about when and how they do it.
  • Stakeholders Must “Discover” Policy, Approach to Trust. “Selling” an organization’s narrative will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.
  • Employee “Value” Must be Reinforced in a Virtual Workplace. As cited earlier, employees are working remotely and may feel like they’re in a bubble. Keeping them informed, interested and connected is critical to reinforcing their value and confidence.

Over the coming weeks, we will be refreshing and sharing our data and insights.

We certainly are living in an incredible time where the world seems to be standing still.  Moving forward as individuals and organizations is going to take determination, perseverance, information and connection.

Staying relevant amid such a turbulent time is not just important, it’s critical, especially once things do return to normalcy and they will.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy!

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub and Daniel Steffen of W2O.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

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Right now, people everywhere are using social media to cope with isolation (i.e., #stayathome). Overall, the pace of news related to COVID-19 has become so rapid that social media feeds seem the only way to keep up with an ever-evolving reality. As a result, these platforms are so inundated with information, it can be difficult to distinguish misinformation or breakthrough the noise to connect with one another.

Now, more than ever, it is critical for health care leaders to communicate in the most effective ways.

Using MDigitalLife – W2O’s integrated online and offline health care data platform – we zoomed in, filtering more than 124M posts on Twitter related to COVID-19 or coronavirus from January 1 to March 17, 2020 for 330K posts from physicians, advocacy groups, and industry players. We then used our audience map to analyze the specific specialties, geographies, disease areas, and company types who engaged – and, ultimately, tied it all back to the “WHEN,” in an effort to understand the “SO WHAT.”

In a global health crisis that is evolving and advancing at an exponential rate, there is much to learn from the thought leaders and influencers who are engaging in the discussion. Understanding how physicians and advocacy groups are stepping up as leaders in the dialogue; how health care professionals and companies can be more effective in addressing the information and support needs of patient communities; and, what information health care stakeholders need and expect from biopharma and pharmaceutical companies to help them during this time.

Here are nine insights we found from our data:

1. May the real coronavirus expert please stand up? Abundance of expert voices blur out the real-time facts.

Physicians and advocacy groups are using social media to call on their peers, media, and health care leaders to share their perspective on the evolving situation while caveating that they are not coronavirus experts (so that too much stock isn’t placed in an opinion from a non-expert that could quickly become outdated).

One of the first coronavirus tweets (January 2020) from a US physician, a professor of emergency medicine at a major research hospital, said: “Good news is no documented person-to-person spread, and no health care worker cases.”

As another physician put it: “Lots of misinformation about #coronavirus. What can we do? First, if you’re a general #globalhealth person, make it clear to your followers that this doesn’t make you a #coronavirus expert! I’ll start. I don’t know much about this disease.”

2. Infectious disease and emergency medicine experts are not the only one’s engaging – from cardiologists to oncologists, pediatricians and dermatologists – specialists are working to understand the impact.

There are three common questions that the health care community is asking – and certain specialties are more engaged because questions 1 and 2 are especially relevant to their patients.

    • Q1: How do we deliver treatments, with a reduced workforce, through the increased use of virtual visits and by postponing elective procedures?
    • Q2: What risks to our patients can we mitigate by reducing clinic visits? How do we manage the increased risk for severe illness for patients with kidney disease, cancer, as well as immunosuppressed patients?
    • Q3: Should we delay or change certain treatments? How should this be informed based on safety and toxicity data?

In the last 72 hours, conversation has started to emerge around a fourth question: How do we treat a patient with confirmed COVID-19?

3. Community physicians are serving a critical role in effectively sharing hyper-local information.

Initial conversations were focused in “first case” cities or cities with a large research hospital or center of excellence. However, as more communities are affected by outbreaks, physicians are participating at higher levels, primarily focused on overcapacity issues that already exist within their local health systems. These community doctors are also sharing expert perspectives on the response to the crisis from mayors and governors.

4. The health care community is seeking a more open source and transparent flow of information, which continues to increase as we learn more.

In late January, physicians started using social media to demand free access to research related to coronavirus. Journals responded. Seventy organizations and medical journals including New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet made all content free.

“An important thread: access to the latest and best scientific data needs to be open access during an epidemic outbreak such as #nCoV2019 or #Ebola. May warrant alternative ways of $ rewarding them, but in short run, priority needs to be on protecting human life.”

“I see some extremely important #nCov2019 research studies are behind firewalls at scientific journals. Just tried, e.g., to pull one off a Wiley journal today, Elsevier yesterday. IT IS IMMORAL in an epidemic to hide science behind paywalls. Period.”

5. Advocacy groups have been cautious to engage to-date, and although certain disease areas fall outside of the norm, most advocacy organizations have acted as amplifiers of content from public health institutions.

Sixty-two percent of advocacy posts on twitter are retweets, the majority of which are shares of content from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This may change in response to evolving needs for patient communities in the coming weeks. Notably, over the past week, there has been a shift among advocacy groups whose constituents are most at risk, with many creating or consolidating “verified” content and materials with guidelines for non-symptomatic patients on COVID-19. 

6. It’s important not to dilute the conversation with unnecessary or unhelpful comparisons.

Health care leaders may have done more harm than good by using COVID-19 as an opportunity to address anti-vaxxers and make comparisons to the flu in the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Recently physicians have hypothesized: “Please stop comparing #2019nCoV with influenza. Not equivalent – at all. You might as well remind people to stop smoking to save more lives than the coronavirus will take.”

7. Online conversation among industry analysts and investors is still very much in the moment versus thinking about longer-term impact.

To date, the online discussion has been largely focused on pharmaceutical companies and the status or starting of coronavirus vaccine clinical trials. Companies with the most mentions related to coronavirus are (in descending order): Gilead, Moderna, J&J, Sanofi, and Regeneron. There will be more information forthcoming on how the largest health care brands are maintaining relevancy with key stakeholders in an upcoming report scheduled to be released tomorrow.

8. Physicians and advocacy groups are increasingly engaging in a politicized dialogue, and many health care leaders worry about the impact on the scientific dialogue around pandemics.

Continuing to track this dialogue will be critical for health care leaders to understand how to add value to these conversations. For example, discussion around potential economic impact and health care access is likely to drive increased focus on patient access programs.

“There is also a growing partisan divide over how Americans interpret scientific expertise and health policy, leaving decisions about public health vulnerable to the kind of partisan squabbling you hear on cable news every night.”

“As #coronavirus spreads, political support is key but politicization of scientific decisions is dangerous. In @CFR_org @ThinkGlobalHlth I outline past inspiring collaboration and potential for unity against humanity’s common enemy: dangerous microbes.”

9. This is a moment to be inclusive as a health care community.

In response to gratitude expressed toward health care professionals, many physicians and advocacy groups aim to highlight the broader community of health care workers, such as janitors, hospital employees, and everyone who continues to work to address this disease every day.

This report was powered by W2O Analytics & Insights Team. Authors: Meredith Owen, Kelly Moulds, Garrett Bond, Daniel Steffen + the W2O Coronavirus Core Team.

(Note: This report focuses on US-insights. W2O will be sharing regional insights on the online conversation globally throughout March in April.)

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

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Even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and President Trump imposed travel restrictions to Europe, the 2020 presidential candidates were already grappling with how to respond to this novel virus.

The remaining likely hopeful candidates are all over 70, and their campaigns – by their very existence – are now violating the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that all people over 60 should avoid crowds and stay home. Some in the media have argued that voters may be putting themselves at risk simply by fulfilling their civic duty and participating in primaries. In response, at least two states have announced they are delaying their primaries.

Response from the campaign trails around COVID-19 has been inconsistent, as we’ve noted on our 2020 Election Scorecard. However, as the country rethinks election season and political influence as we know it, there is a new set of considerations for policy and health care communicators to keep in mind:

  • Regardless of audience, recognize that COVID-19 is the main story, for now. While some aspects of communications remain business as usual, this is not the best time to announce major policy or business initiatives.
  • For companies involved in R&D and innovation, it’s not just about COVID-19. Companies need to balance meaningful engagement with the perception of opportunism. Companies directly engaged in relevant research and development, testing or biosecurity should talk about what they are doing, how they are contributing, and how they are partnering with the government to benefit society. Companies without a direct connection to the pandemic should not try to create artificial relevance.
  • To engage policymakers and voters, leverage new media to forge connections. Policymakers may not be listening to podcasts or checking Instagram, but their staffs are. Over a quarter of Americans listen to podcasts, which are a diverse medium, covering everything from news to storytelling, to in-depth paid promotion. For social channels, analyzing target audience trends, lexicon and key influencers can help optimize a paid or organic strategy, making it more likely to reach the desired voter group or type of policy influencer.
  • To connect policy or health care thought leaders, look to (or be) a digital convener. In-person conferences/meetings may be falling by the wayside, but that leaves an opportunity for organizations that are natural conveners, such as trade organizations, think tanks and alliances. Organizations can seek out conveners to partner with, or serve as the convener themselves, on webinars, Facebook lives, LinkedIn lives, Twitter chats, etc.

Every four years, we think we are living through a historic election, and 2020 is shaping up to be no exception. While the campaign itself may indeed look different, political discourse does not have to be diminished.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Check out W2O’s weekly Value Report or Recommended Daily Value for more information and insights

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Rethinking the new normal for individuals, teams, organizations and systems in the era of pandemics

With COVID-19 being designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization, we are reminded of how transitory our lives are both at home and at work. As such, we are seeing both the private and public sectors leaning into their unique strengths, working vigorously to address this unprecedented public health challenge.

For organizations, this is the beginning of a new normal. A time when agility, adaptability, flexibility and collaboration are critical to business continuity and human health. It is certainly a time to reflect on and adhere to our mission and purpose to guide decisions.

At W2O – “making the world a healthier place through marketing communications” – is at the heart of our purpose. Given the information we know right now, we’re erring on the side of caution and safety for our employees while maintaining expectations for what we deliver to our clients. We’re leveraging technology to make it easier to work virtually with our colleagues and our clients. And we’re making sure people are well informed and kept up to date on the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities.

The goal right now is to flatten the curve, as stated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  By flattening the curve, fewer people will be infected.  All of us in positions of influence, specifically communications, can support the dissemination of data and information that would help achieve this goal, which aligns with our mission. It starts with us.

Our policy at W2O consists of:

  1. The closing of our U.S. offices effective end of day Friday, March 13, for one week, implementing a work from home model for all staff – operating based on a “long hallway” approach, meaning we work without boundaries or barriers. In a digital world, this is actually a given. Our intention is to reassess each week and determine the right next step. To facilitate all of this, we have rapidly established an internal digital emergency hub and specialized client counsel and solutions task force with tech-enabled tools to support ongoing and up-to-date communications and continued execution of business as this situation continues to evolve.
  2. All managers are requested to conduct regular communication with their teams including morning and evening check-ins to ensure clarity and information sharing.
  3. All teams will be engaged with clients as usual, respecting their protocols.
  4. Knowledge is power and erring on the side of caution is prudent, particularly while more testing and information is being conducted and gathered.
  5. Compassion and empathy will guide our decisions.

Having spent a good deal of time earlier in my career working in the HIV/AIDS space, I learned the importance of avoiding the temptation to jump to conclusions and taking a fact-based approach. We’re never 100% safe but we’re safer with information. As I often say, leadership is communications.

We will get through this just like with other crises we’ve dealt with, including hurricanes, fires, floods, terrorism and financial market instability. Let’s stay in touch, albeit at a distance, and be disciplined, smart, cautious and focused.

By staying connected, adhering to the guidelines provided, and becoming adept at adapting, we can do our part to flatten the curve.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

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Dr. Angela Rasmussen, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, discusses misconceptions around the coronavirus, the importance of investment in public health, and what we all can do about COVID-19.

Take a listen below.

W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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