Using Social Media as an Early Indicator for COVID-19

By: Thomas Martens

May 12, 2020

Clarabridge Engage
Customer Emotion
Social Media

At Clarabridge, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of our digital customer service and social listening platform, Engage, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media interactions are an interesting barometer of business activity during crisis situations. In Europe, companies had to shift their policies, processes and workflows to ensure business continuity during the pandemic surge. The pandemic is now broaching the Middle East. What can Middle Eastern countries and companies learn from the experiences of European companies? This blog post will make the case that social media can be used as a leading indicator or early signal of events to come during a crisis, helping companies adequately prepare in advance.

Clarabridge Engage is the digital customer service and social listening platform of choice for companies across the globe, chosen by many for its “crisis communication” planning and reporting features.  Last week, our Customer Engagement Managers began comparing COVID-19 mentions in social media interactions across Europe and the Middle East and an interesting pattern emerged. The volume and topics of conversation were similar, but there was about a two-week lag in the Middle East.

If we take a look at the graphs below, which shows COVID19 mentions within the travel industry, you can see the timeline of events that took place and where the peak of conversations happened.


At the end of January, the rumors of COVID-19 spreading throughout Hubei Province in China began to uptick on social media and messaging channels. Throughout February, Italy went into lockdown and the volume of COVID-19 mentions began rising further. As the virus spread throughout Europe, related conversations surged on social/digital channels.



A similar pattern can be seen when we look at social media and messaging patterns in the Middle Eastern region. It is relatively easy to see the giant uptick in COVID-19 conversations as the pandemic made its way into the Middle East in early April.





If we dive into the data, there’s a lot of interesting conversation drivers. If we look at some of the examples of the travel industry in Europe, people were talking about “refunds” and “rebooking”. Messages expressed “frustration” and “confusion” due to uncertainty about company policies and response.

European companies analyzing these public conversations were able to use the information to effectively react and respond. Travel companies in the Middle East, though, had the benefit of using European social media trends to proactively plan ahead for the uptick in “refund” and “rebooking” requests, thereby tempering emotions and delivering a better customer experience.

Let’s look at the conversation trends related to Postal & Delivery Services. These are busy times for parcel delivery services, as everyone staying at home orders more goods online.  Postal & Delivery Services companies show a pattern of conversation drivers: People are wondering if the services will keep on running in quarantined zones or cities. They ask if pick up points will be available and want to know if delivery people are required to wear gloves and masks. They are inquiring about the possibility of the virus spreading on delivered packages. These conversation patterns trend across regions and can be used to inform crisis communications.

Our clients are also using Clarabridge to monitor the conversation about their own brands and products during this crisis, looking for indications of negative public sentiment or concerns about insolvency. This enables them to identify emerging problems early and proactively address them. Seeing the patterns in Europe, we can tell with a high degree of confidence that the volume of conversation around COVID-19 will rise in the Middle East and companies can expect an influx of similar questions and uncertainty. Using the lessons learned in other regions can inform your own preparation strategies.

Based on our trend analysis across regions, we offer the following recommendations for our customers with call centers in the Middle East:


  • Make sure that you have automated topic-based routing & categorization in place so your teams can handle the increases with minimum response delay.
  • Start listening to what your customers are saying indirectly about your business so you can get ahead of any issues early.
  • Empower your team with the tools and resources they need to efficiently work from home and engage on digital channels.


Are you interested in mining social media for business and competitive insights? Clarabridge’s Customer Experience Management (CEM) platform is chosen by the world’s top brands to listen, analyze and act on Voice of the Customer data at scale, wherever they may be talking.


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Thomas Martens is a Senior Customer Success Manager at Clarabrige. Thomas mainly focuses on ensuring clients’ happiness and satisfaction with Clarabridge Engage. From onboarding new clients, providing professional services, understanding the clients’ goals for social customer service and translating them into actionable insights.

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About the Clarabridge COVID-19 Effort

Clarabridge has embarked on an independent research project to actively analyze the “emotional pulse” of social media users worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort’s main goal is to assess how people are feeling using Clarabridge’s Natural Language Understanding to glean insights from millions of unstructured data records.

Clarabridge COVID-19 Command Center 

Questions about Coronavirus? Check out:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO)
Directory of Local Health Departments