Infobip: The impact of COVID-19: an acceleration of digital communications

On 23 March 2020, the most significant set of restrictions on British life in living memory were set in place as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered people to stay in their homes. Mr Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in an effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak and warned that the police would be called in to enforce it. Businesses were ordered to close as part of the measures, office workers were instructed to work from home, and routine operations were cancelled by the NHS. Face to face was replaced with pixel to pixel, and the country had to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that was anything but normal. 

When something as large, multifaceted, and complex as a pandemic comes along, the only way to ensure public safety is to get the right message at the right time to the right audiences. The reliable delivery of critical information from trustworthy sources is a daunting task: public and government health organisations needed to provide information quickly and at scale.  In many ways, this was our biggest challenge since the second world war – but unlike in those years in the early 1940s, we had incredible advances in technology on our side.  

The strategies to communicate to the public were far-reaching and nuanced: this pandemic affected everyone, of all ages, in all parts of the country. As well as TV broadcasts, public service announcements on television, NHS notifications printed in newspapers, leaflets, Government websites and information provided by certain phone numbers, the UK also enlisted the reach that comes with newer, digital forms of communications.  

To provide quick and trustworthy on-demand information related to COVID-19, Infobip and WhatsApp worked together to help healthcare organisations in the UK and around the world build simple, self-service chatbots.  

Government health organisations such as Public Health England , as well as in France, Russia, Qatar, Pakistan, UAE, the Indian State Governments of Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi, and Nigeria, made best use of this technology by making these chatbots easily accessible over a publicly available number. 

Contact with the chatbot was initiated by anyone looking for information related COVID-19 by entering the number in their contact list and sending “Hi” to that number. This started a dialogue with the WhatsApp chatbot, over which users could choose from a list of topics. As well as being easily accessible and simple to use, chatbots operated 24/7 to provide critical information in an instant. WhatsApp only gives green badges to verified senders, and this ensured that the public received healthcare information from an official health organisation.   

Since these chatbots used WhatsApp as a delivery media, information was expanded to include educational videos on how to properly wash hands, locations for getting tested, contact information for local health providers, and links to further resources. If further assistance was required, chatbots could transfer the conversation to an agent for detailed answers to more complex queries.  

We are now a long way from March 2020 – and sadly the threat of infection still looms large over our daily lives. The Coronavirus pandemic will likely change the way we communicate forever. It has never been more crucial to adopt an effective strategy that allows for Government bodies to communicate directly with the public, over channels that are effective and immediate. 

Getting accurate and reliable information to the public remains a challenge – but if the industry continues to work with government health organisations, it is a challenge we are committed to facing head on. 

About this author

This guest blog was written by Nikhil Shoorji, VP, Managing Director Europe, Infobip. 

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