Using social media to help the Department of Health fight Ebola

2nd June 2016

From December 2014 to January 2016, the Ebola virus spread throughout West Africa. The world quickly took note seeing the disease as extremely contagious and deadly. The UK was on red alert after two cases of Ebola (a British doctor treating victims in Sierra Leone & the nurse who treated him) were quarantined in the UK. This sparked widespread concern that there would be a similar outbreak in the UK to the one in West Africa. With (mis)information as well as public concern increasing rapidly, the Department of Health took action and contacted Pulsar.  

“Pulsar quickly helped us spot public concerns on Ebola”


Tracking ebola social data

Define the needs

The Department of Health's main need was to monitor changes in public concern around the Ebola disease in the UK, in order to understand key concerns, educate the public on symptoms, counter misinformation going around and ensuring they could track potential outbreak locations.   The latter is a fairly new but increasingly important way to identify the spreading of diseases. The data that is used for analysis will come with a geotag on it – and using filters to narrow down a group of people discussing particular symptoms will allow you to see specific datasets back on a map over time, which can show the spread of the disease as well as the pace it’s moving in.  

Quick response is crucial

  For the Department of Health, we set up an alert system based on 24/7 tracking and analysis of social media content discussing Ebola in the UK. We automatically updated DoH’s PR department of any significant changes in public discussion or sentiment, so they could address concerns without delay. Plus, weekly analysis reports were then issued to provide learning on audience behaviour and information on key players within discussion.   micrograph-of-human-liver-tissue-infected-with-the-ebola-virus-the-cause-of-ebola-hemorrhagic-fever-725x483  

Addressing public concerns

  Understanding conversations of what people were saying about Ebola and measuring overall public opinion meant the Department of Health were able to focus their communication strategy and issue statements before public concerns escalated.   The Department of Health's real-time analysis shows that you can use social media data to better inform your communication strategy and understand public opinion. Analysing audience behaviour is crucial if you're working in the public sector, especially if you're looking to manage a potential crisis.   Pulsar is invested in healthcare and aims to help brands and agencies in the public sector and the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. We’ve launched Pulsar Health for this purpose – if you’d like to find out more, please get in touch: [email protected].