From Matter Health: COVID-19 By the Numbers – Search, Social and Earned Media in the U.S.

By Ryan Lilly

We’ve certainly seen events before which have catalyzed social media, dominated the headlines and taken over the internet, but nothing on this scale. While it may, and very likely does, feel overwhelming at times, there is something to be said for our ability to instantly communicate and share information around an event like this, using both traditional and non-traditional channels, with the hope that it contributes to the spread of meaningful information, not hysteria or exploitation. While there will likely be some amount of all the above, we as PR practitioners have a responsibility to help navigate these uncharted waters. 

While virtually no organization’s comms strategy is unaffected by COVID-19, the Matter Health team has faced a particularly challenging situation amidst the pandemic, as we closely monitor communication platforms to try to help our healthcare clients walk the line between proactive PR, information sharing and what could easily be perceived as exploiting the situation. But whether talking to our client partners or media friendlies, there has been a common sentiment of wanting to contribute to “the good” and a productive path forward. Information sharing and media reporting have been critical in communicating the progression of COVID-19 and what we can all do to contribute to a path forward. 

With that in mind, we decided to use our media monitoring tools to examine communications and information sharing across media, search and social in the days leading up to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic declaration and President Trump’s national emergency announcement.

Media Coverage: January 13-March 12

  • 2.22 million pieces of editorial related to the virus
    • “Coronavirus” mentioned in 1.45 million articles
    • “COVID-19” mentioned in 606k articles
    • “Pandemic” mentioned in 166k articles
  • Coverage spiked around March 12 after WHO categorized COVID-19 as a global pandemic
  • News transcended media outlets ranging from hard news to Op Eds to ESPN’s coverage of widespread sporting cancellations

Given the gravity of this event, it is not shocking to see numbers like this nor is it shocking to see the curve of coverage mirror the spread of the virus itself, but the numbers are staggering. While we are in uncharted territory with the pandemic, we are also in unprecedented times in terms of the media and our collective ability to share information continuously and almost instantaneously. 


A media coverage snapshot of a major event like this is inherently interesting, particularly to someone in healthcare PR, but we wanted a broader perspective on information sharing at what is currently the tipping point of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S., so we did some keyword search analysis.

The following were the top 13 Google searches on March 12. Even amidst a global pandemic, there is no questioning the population’s overwhelming love of sports and pop-culture. 



Finally, we explored how people have been using social media platforms for communication and information sharing amidst COVID-19.

  • Instagram received nearly 2 million posts referencing the virus on March 12 alone
  • Facebook and Twitter collectively received 90 million posts referencing the virus from February 1 through March 12
  • Meme culture has not been immune to COVID-19, but has surprisingly promoted correct information

The bottom line for PR practitioners and brands working to navigate the novel Coronavirus is that there must continue to be at least some semblance of “business as usual,” but where do we draw the lines? The reality is that the lines are moving every day and every hour, and there is no standardized PR playbook for the situation we find ourselves in. What there is, and must be, is increasing onus around the greater good and how we and our clients can contribute to it. Whether addressing COVID-19 directly – offering strategic content from subject matter experts to the media, providing organizations with thoughtful internal communications – or through continuing to provide the unrelated goods and services that are essential to driving business operations and day-to-day life, we will continue to keep our fingers on the pulse of the healthcare industry and those who report on it, while working in lockstep with our various clients to provide counsel that serves the greater good in these unprecedented times.