WHO You Gonna Call?!

How the World Health Organisation Went Viral on Social Media

With the spread of the coronavirus, the World Health Organisation is on course to become the most followed international organisation on social media. The WHO has seen exponential growth on its social media channels as it fights the COVID-19 pandemic and the misinformation about the virus.

World Health Organisation on Facebook

World Health Organization Facebook growth (January – May 2020)

As of April 30, 2020, the WHO had a total of 21 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter combined, which put the organisation into third place behind the United Nations and UNICEF with 22.24 and 22.19 million followers each.

Top Three International Organisations on Facebook

Top Three International Organisations on Facebook (by page likes)
Source: Crowdtqngle.com

Since January 1, 2020 the WHO has almost doubled its followers on Facebook (+88 percent) reaching 8.29 million page likes and growing by 50,000 new followers each day, according to Crowdtangle.com. The WHO ranks second among all international organisations, behind UNICEF which has been leading the rankings of the most liked international organisations on Facebook for several years with 8.69 million page-likes.

Over the past months the WHO page has registered 15.4 million interactions and a very respectable interaction rate of 0.65 percent, which is the sum of all interactions divided by the number of posts and the average number of followers.

Since January 1, 2020 the WHO has also more than doubled its followers on Instagram recently passing the 5 million follower mark and clocking up more than 7.16 million interactions (comments and likes). The engagement rate stands at 1.55 percent which shows a very strong engagement from its followers.

Top Three International Organisation on Instagram (by followers)

Top Three International Organisations on Instagram (by followers)
Source: Crowdtangle.com

The personal Instagram account of the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, known as @DrTedros, has literally exploded from 2,200 followers in the beginning of 2020 to more than 91,900 followers as of late April 2020.

On Facebook and on Twitter, Dr. Tedros has recently passed the million-follower mark and he is now the most followed of all leaders of international organisations, even overtaking UN Secretary General António Guterres.

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Dr. Tedros has stepped up his Twitter communication, averaging almost 20 tweets per day with the hashtags #COVID19 and #coronavirus largely dominating his Twitter feed. While his team prepares most of the publications for his social networks, he insists on posting them himself from his iPhone. He sometimes posts personally in his native Amharic, one of the Ethiopian Semitic languages. Among his most popular posts are the recent one-word tweets including: «Courage», «Love», «Humanity», «Humility», «Perseverance», «Solidarity, and «Unity».

On March 14 he promoted the WHO #SafeHands Challenge inviting world leaders to illustrate the importance of washing hands with soap and water. On Twitter he encouraged numerous world leaders and influencers to take up the challenge including Ivanka Trump and Pope Francis.

Unfortunately his online popularity comes with massive online criticism and racist abuse under every single tweet he posts which is hard to ignore and often difficult to stomach.

Dr. Tedros shows leadership and comes across as personal and approachable on Twitter with a fifth of his tweets being @replies to his followers. He consistently thanks his peers and influencers for their support of the WHO and its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the outbreak, the World Health Organisation has also become active on other social media platforms such as TikTok. After less than two months on the platform, the WHO has become the most followed international organisation with 1.8 million followers. The 21 videos, repurposed from its Instagram account, have garnered 5.2 million likes and a total of 185 million views. The WHO has also received 3.6 million likes for its daily Periscope live streams of Dr. Tedros’ media briefing and on YouTube the WHO has more than half a million subscribers and more than 53 million video views.

“WHO’s aim is to reach as many people as possible with reliable health information through innovative digital technology,” said Dr Tedros after partnering with Viber to fight misinformation through an interactive chatbot on the platform. The partnership allows the WHO to potentially reach over one billion people on their mobile phones in multiple languages. The organisation has also set up chatbots on WhatsApp and Messenger messaging apps.

World Health Organization Alexa Ranking (May 2020)

The who.int website, which has been widely promoted on major social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, is now among the top 200 websites worldwide according to alexa.com, providing timely and accurate information in the six official UN languages.

However, on Twitter @WHO only communicates in English. The language accounts for Arabic (@WHO_ara), Chinese (@WHO_zh), French (@OMS_fr), Spanish (@OMS_es), Portuguese (@OMS_pt) and Russian (@WHO_rus) set up in 2013 haven’t been activated yet, which is understandable since the social media team only consists of six staff (two permanent staffers and four hired especially for the pandemic).