As the coronavirus pushes millions of people into isolation, the Internet is now one of the few tools people can use to connect with each other.
“Researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body,” writes Kasley Killam, a specialist in social health for Scientific American. “We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections — especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.”
News organisations in particular have more power than ever before to bring people together. With news media gathering a massive amount of attention, it’s becoming essential for them to open up their platforms to social interaction.
This is why:
Life events bring people together naturally
All kinds of events have the ability to connect people through conversation. This is because humans rely on conversations to break down, analyse, and understand major events.
This was the case for a tight-knit community that formed around an orphaned black bear named Mike. A camera was set up to monitor Mike’s growth in 2015, which anyone could watch live and comment on. More than five years and 300,000 comments later, individuals continue to return to the thread regularly to chat with fellow community members, even after Mike was euthanised due to bone disease.
So how did a single event lead to these long-terms connections?
When people talk about events they find interesting or relatable, they’re able to build connections with one another. These online connections can help satisfy the need for entertainment, education, or friendship.
Since news publishers report on countless events every day, consumers can only benefit from joining the conversation.
People need a reliable outlet for their emotions
Right now, the coronavirus is dominating the news. Mix this hunger for information with isolated people glued to their screens, and news organisations have the potential to connect and heal entire networks of anxious and frustrated consumers.
Ashwin Vasan, CEO at Fountain House, a charity that battles mental illness resulting from isolation, knows that virtual communities are extremely important to one’s well-being. She tells NPR that “staying virtually connected is an important strategy for fighting social isolation.” Encouraging social interaction on news platforms can prevent isolated people from feeling lonely or anxious and can help them process the changing world.
In fact, the American Psychological Association recommends individuals stay connected socially via mobile devices or online to “foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress.”
Cutting through fear
Although fear is spreading faster than the virus itself, news organisations can cut through misinformation and anxiety with accurate content.
Sarah Boseley, health editor at the Guardian, explains how she ensures published content is accurate, calm, and non-sensational. In this fashion, Boseley is able to create a safe environment for readers. The BBC also addresses and calms audience fear during its “Your Questions Answered” broadcast.
In general, safe spaces created on news platforms like the Guardian and the BBC have calming power in the face of mass panic. This is exactly the kind of setting consumers should be using to talk through and cope with changes around the world.
Trusted platforms build positive connections
As much as people dislike social media because of the misinformation and trolls that live there, humans are social creatures.
But attention is now shifting back to news organisations thanks to their ability to protect the quality of news and consumer conversations. In fact, 77% of consumers have more trust in news articles than information found on social media.
News companies are also starting to understand the importance of helping consumers make positive connections.
“I’m not waking up today thinking, ‘How am I going to monetise this?’” the chief revenue officer of the Atlantic tells Adweek. “I’m thinking, ‘We’re in an entirely new world. How do I make sure people feel safe and healthy and supported and well-connected and have access to the information they need?’”
In other words, media organisations are becoming socially responsible for giving people a safe space to interact.
So, go ahead and give your audience what it needs: a trustworthy platform to have a conversation.