94% of UK universities used Twitter for Covid-19 communication before first lockdown

19 March 2021

Around 94% of UK universities (148 of 158), tweeted about Covid-19 before the first national lockdown in March 2020, according to new research by academics from London South Bank University (LSBU) and University of Essex. The universities used Twitter proactively for crisis communications, to raise awareness and provide advice to their staff and students during the pandemic.

The research findings show:

  • Universities with large numbers of students (according to HESA and HEFCE data) were more likely to use social media and their own websites to speak about the pandemic sooner than institutions with fewer students;
  • Universities with large financial resources (according to HESA data) were also more likely to tweet sooner, but they did not introduce Covid19 webpages faster than other universities;
  • The first university to tweet anything about Covid-19 was London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a constituent college of University of London (9 January), followed by University of Greenwich (21 January) and Kingston University (23 January). Subsequently 11 universities tweeted on 24 January. By the end of January, 41 UK universities had tweeted about Covid-19. Typically, these universities were either giving advice about what to do in the case staff or students were diagnosed with the virus, or confirming there had been no cases on campus so far;
  • 6 March was the day 18 universities tweeted about Covid-19 for the first time – the highest number to tweet on a single day by that date;
  • By 20 March at the start of the first lockdown when ‘stay at home’ orders were announced, ten universities still had not tweeted about Covid-19.

Dr Barbara Czarnecka, Associate Professor of Marketing, LSBU’s Business School and co-author of this study, said: “At a time when the UK government was relatively slow to act at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, universities were forced to take matters into their own hands.  Our research shows that, around 94% of UK universities tweeted about Covid-19 before the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020. By taking positive action at the start of the crisis and initiating communication with their staff and students, universities were confirming their key role as public sources of trust.”