The #faktaakoronasta campaign in Finland
In current society, social media has universal pervasiveness. We participate in the practices of social media to connect, discuss, share and create with others, without borders such as time or geography. Information can be shared fast and effectively through the mosaic network of social media services and applications. Even in a small country such as Finland, the most popular social media influencers can reach audiences of hundreds of thousands. It would be foolish to ignore social media in formal communication so, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, Finnish Government, Mediapooli (a network of media companies that ensures citizens’ access to reliable information in all situations) and PING Helsinki (a social media company providing influencer marketing services) launched a social media campaign to spread correct and up-to-date information about the Covid-19 situation. The main idea of the project was to provide social media influencers regular relevant and factual updates on the Covid-19 situation in Finland and the influencers shared this information with their followers, encouraging them to also share it forward. The campaign was based on volunteering and none of the influencers who participated received payment in any way. The Covid-19 information and updates were sent to over 1800 influencers and the accessibility of the hashtag #fatkaakoronasta on Twitter and Instagram was over 4 million (PING Helsinki, 08/2020).
Päivi Anttikoski, the communications manager of Finnish Government at that time, defines the project:
“It is possible to reach a large number of citizens with governmental communication and legacy media. It is clear, that communication from the government does not reach everyone. The aim of this co-operation is to reach also those who cannot be reached through traditional forms of media and communication. Finland is, as far as we know, the only country in the world that has defined social media influencers as a critical part of its National Emergency Supply Organization. In these exceptional times, social media influencers are in a very important role in sharing information.” (Valtioneuvosto, 2020)
In this short article, I will introduce the new way of using social media as a method of crisis communication through this case of #faktaakoronasta campaign and discuss the effectiveness of social media in this type of crisis communication.
Social media and crisis communication
In the reign of legacy media (television, the press, radio), the individual was considered a spectator, not an active participant. In the modern era, the internet and other new forms of media give everyone the possibility to be a content creator. This is especially true in social media, where influencers can reach vast audiences, even in smaller countries, such as Finland. This creates a hybrid media environment where commercials and non-commercials, professionals and amateurs, big corporations and social communities or government and citizen activists come together and influence each other (Seppänen & Väliverronen, 2012, p. 197). Social media can be defined as digital technology based conversational platforms for like-minded individuals to discuss and share ideas and opinions online, and which has universal pervasiveness through social, economic, cultural and political dimensions (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 478). In our current society, social media is a part of our everyday life, and it is a crucial part of the media system that cannot be overlooked in any kind of communication, formal or informal.
Media defines and shapes current events. Different media sources send out information and symbols that influence society and individuals. Social media has power over society because content can be posted, shared and commented quickly on different social media platforms and geographic areas, and it can be seen by thousands, even millions of stakeholders (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 481).
A crisis can be defined as an unpredictable major threat that has a negative effect (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 478). Today’s crises are complex and can be caused by a combination of factors (Hyvärinen & Vos, 2016, p. 96). Modern crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, are also without fault discussed and communicated about in social media (Mirbabaie, M. et al., 2020). It is evident that social media should be a part of any comprehensive media communication strategy at all levels of society. According to Hyvärinen and Vos (2016, p. 101), the role of communication in a crisis is to create common meanings and understandings, also referred to as sense-making by Mirbabaie et al. (2020, p. 197). In a crisis, such as a global pandemic, people need information that is given to them quickly through diverse channels and which is accurate and transparent with simple and clear instructions (Hyvärinen & Vos, 2016, p. 101). Diversity in information sources is important since individuals will try to find information through the channels which are most familiar to them. Some will rely on mass media when others gather information from their personal networks, such as social media. Using diverse means of communication to reach as many people as possible was the core idea of the #faktaakoronasta campaign.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, in January 2020, a communications and influencer marketing professional, also a prominent social media influencer herself, Emmi Nuorgam posted on her Instagram account (@emminuorgam) that she was a member of the Mediapooli’s content group, representing Finnish social media and social media influencers. Mediapooli is a part of the Finnish National Emergency Supply Organization and aims to ensure media organizations will be able to prepare for and function in a crisis so that citizens will have access to reliable information in all possible situations. Nuorgam also shared in her Instagram stories that she had been a participant in a project with Mediapooli and the Finnish government to renew the official governmental communication strategies for national emergency conditions, such as pandemics. The Finnish government had, already before the Covid-19 crisis, included social media as a part of its new crisis communication strategy and had started a collaboration with the social media company PING Helsinki and Nuorgam already in 2018.
In March 2020, the Finnish government, PING Helsinki and Mediapooli reached out to social media influencers and popular content creators to join a mailing list for current Covid-19 updates that they could the share with on their social media accounts. PING Helsinki was the mediator between the governmental communication and social media influencers, shaping the information and instructions to better suit the needs of social media (PING Helsinki, 03/2020). In March 2020, Nuorgam stated in an article on YLE’s website that:
“Especially now with korona, it is highlighted how panic starts to spread in social media. It is very difficult to control it, if official governmental communication is not there where the people are.”
“We (in Finland) have an enormous number of influencers who reach the same amount of people like, for example, newspapers or commercial radio channels. Social media audiences and masses are ridiculously large. Many may have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers.” (YLE, 2020)
Nuorgam goes on to mention a video by a popular Finnish Youtube influencer Roni Back about Covid-19 information. In the video, Back interviewed professionals about the Covid-19 situation and used language and expressions familiar to his young followers. In less than two days, the video reached 100 000 viewers. The video received thanks from the viewers, and it helped Roni Back’s demographic, 13- to 24-year-olds, to understand and make sense of the pandemic situation. (YLE, 2020) This is a good example of bringing crisis communication to social media and how to reach many people, who do not use legacy media as their primary source for information on current topics. Back was not a participant in the #faktaakoronasta campaign, but his video is an excellent example of how effective social media can be in spreading fact-based information to targeted audiences.
During the campaign, PING Helsinki provided the participating social media influencers first daily, then weekly updates on the pandemic situation. The first email was sent to 900 influencers and soon there were over 1800 names on the mailing list. In addition to the emails, PING Helsinki organized three #faktaakoronasta webinars in which influencers were instructed how to communicate in their social media accounts about this unique situation, how to manage their social media in a time of crisis and how to cope mentally and physically in an unprecedented situation. Over 600 influencers attended the webinars. (PING Helsinki, 08/2020)
The results of the #faktaakoronasta campaign
PING Helsinki reported results of the campaign in Augusta 2020. Majority (97%) of the influencers that replied to PING Helsinki commented that the campaign was necessary on a general level and 88% said that it was personally useful for them. Quote from the replies:
“In the midst of all of this it would have been strange not to share and discuss (the Covid- 19 situation). It has been relieving to know that I am sharing correct information, especially now in this obvious information flood.” (PING Helsinki, 08/2020)
The campaign also brought 30 000 new followers to the social media sites of Finnish Government, bringing new people to the sources of official crisis communication. The hashtag #faktaakoronasta reached over 4 million views on Instagram and Twitter and #faktaakoronasta TikTok videos received over a million views.
The followers were also asked to comment on the campaign. Most (94%) of the followers and subscribers of the social media posts of the influencers participating in the campaign were satisfied with the information and instructions they received from the campaign. Almost all of them (97%) also commented that they found the information reliable and over half of them stated that the #faktaakoronasta posts had affected their behavior during the pandemic. (PING Helsinki, 08/2020)
The campaign was also recognized by international media such as Politico, The Guardian and Forbes. During the campaign in the Spring of 2020, Finland was the first country to name social media influencers as critical actors in the pandemic alongside other professionals and this created a lot of media attention.
During a crisis, the use of social media increases (Archer et al., 2021, p. 108) (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 483). During the Covid.19 pandemic, social media has provided people places to be in contact with others online when they were instructed to not meet in person. On social media, people can discuss, share information, date and meet new people and find comfort and support in a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. It is very natural that people have turned to social media for escapism or for information when social connections in real life have been cut off and diminished.
Including social media influencers in crisis communication strategies seems like a very potential way of increasing the public’s awareness of the crisis and how to cope with it. As stated earlier, social media has power over society and can be used to shape public opinions and behavior. But with social media always comes the aspect of capitalism. Archer et al. (2020, p. 108- 109) argue that influencers have had the ability to exploit the pandemic situation by providing their audiences with entertaining and useful content, which then results in a rise in followers and their status as influencers. This will ultimately benefit the influencers’ incomes and can be linked to Naomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism Theory, which describes how disasters can be exploited to grow influence and economic benefits (Archer et al., 2021, p. 107). Can economic profit be a part of governmental crisis communication? Will it affect the reliability of the information? This raises the question of ethical communication and requires future research (Archer et al., 2021, p. 110).
Social media influencers are good messengers of crisis information. They can speak the language of their demographics and use social media platforms and technologies to enhance their message. Sharing content in social media is a fast and easy way to spread information to large audiences and reach also the people who do not follow legacy media, thus having an enabling function (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 483). Social media in a crisis is an effective way to share information, but the information is not nearly as controlled as in legacy media. During the Covid-19 pandemic, social media influencers have not been controlled in any way and have been able to share whatever information they choose. A great deal of the mis- and disinformation concerning the pandemic has come from social media influencers (Archer et al., 2021, p. 109) from small, private social media accounts all the way to President Trump which means that social media can also have a disrupting function (Valentini & Kruckeberg, 2016, p. 483). Since there are no traditional media gatekeepers in social media, it is difficult to control the content and information shared on social media, which can be a difficulty when considering social media influencers as a part of governmental crisis communication. To ensure that reliable information is shared, the government must have a solid communication strategy which is designed with social media professionals.
The public-private co-operational #faktaakoronasta campaign is a successful example of using social media as a part of governmental crisis communication. The potential value of social media and social media influencers has been somewhat ignored in governmental and health service communication (Archer et al., 2021, p. 109). With the #faktaakoronasta campaign, Finland has shown to other countries how to include social media influencers in crisis, and other forms of governmental communication. The current governmental crisis communication strategy has been created in co-operation with social media professionals and the campaign was designed to meet the governmental communication goals with the means provided by social media. Social media influencer marketing companies were used as the mediator between the government and the participant influencers, acting as the gatekeeper and supervisor of information. The influencers participating in the campaign were volunteers and were not compensated for their work. At this point, one must consider whether the influencers benefited from being a part of the campaign by gaining more followers and a positive reputation for being responsible role models in time of crisis and will this turn into financial profit in the future. The ethics of volunteer crisis communication demands future research and contemplation.
To conclude, social media is an effective way to spread governmental information and instructions in a crisis, as the #faktaakoronasta campaign demonstrates. There are, however, many things to consider when planning such a campaign, such as who has control over information and the ethics of using social media influencers as volunteer labor. The campaign worked well in Finland which is a small country and information spreads fast. In general, Finnish people trust the media and the government which means that governmental communication is usually well-received. The results of a campaign such as #faktaakoronasta might not be as effective in larger countries or a country where the government is not seen as trustworthy. Using social media in governmental crisis communication is a new and arising method and demands further research on how to make it efficient, ethical and reliable.
Archer, C., Wolf, K., & Nalloor, J. (2021). Capitalising on chaos – exploring the impact and future of social media influencer engagement during the early stages of a global pandemic. Media International Australia, 178(1), 106–113. https://doi.org/10.1177/1329878X20958157
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Seppänen, J. & Väliverronen, E, (2012). Mediayhteiskunta. Tallinna: Vastapaino.
Ping Helsinki (03/2020): Jokaisen someviestijän apua tarvitaan, https://pinghelsinki.fi/viesti-valtioneuvostolta-jokaisen-someviestijan-apua-tarvitaan/
Ping Helsinki (08/2020): Case #faktaakoronasta – luotettavalla tiedolla koronavirusta vastaan, https://pinghelsinki.fi/caset-arkisto/case-faktaakoronasta-luotettavalla-tiedolla-koronavirusta-vastaan/
Valtioneuvosto (2020): Torjutaan koronaa yhdessä – jaa luotettavaa tietoa eteenpäin, https://valtioneuvosto.fi/-/10616/torjutaan-koronaa-yhdessa-jaa-luotettavaa-tietoa-eteenpain
YLE (2020): Somevaikuttajat mukaan jakamaan tietoa koronaviruksesta – viestinnän asiantuntija: “Tietoa saadaan perille nopeasti, oikeaan aikaan” https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11267662
Emmi Nuorgam: https://www.instagram.com/emminuorgam/?hl=fi