Did you know that over three billion messages related to COVID-19 have been sent by governments, non-profits and international organisations to citizens via official WhatsApp chatbots[i]? The South African government was one of the first to harness the power of the platform to share correct, up-to-date COVID-19 information from the National Department of Health, but Kyle Oosthuizen (@KyleOosthuizen), Chief Operating Officer at Blue Robot, the leading provider of socially powered messaging solutions, believes that it – and other tech tools – could be utilised for far more, especially now that vaccines are being opened up to younger generations.
He says that while the WhatsApp chatbot is slightly more convenient than government’s COVID-19 resource and news portal, it isn’t adding any new value since the same information is repeated across both platforms. “With WhatsApp having a Live Location feature, what if you could share your location with the chatbot and have it tell you where the 10 closest vaccination sites are? Additionally, what if you could utilise technology similar to that employed by Google to monitor traffic at these sites so you could check and see how busy they are?
“Although WhatsApp made history by allowing government entities to launch chatbots in light of the pandemic – something it had never done before – the South African government could also take a leaf out of France’s book and partner with other established apps, like those for various medical aids, private hospitals, first-aid organisations and pharmacies, to help people find vaccine appointments near them.”
In terms of other tech tools helping to smooth vaccine rollouts around the world, Oosthuizen shares that social media is crucial, not only to stamp out fake news but also for vaccine-related alerts. “Twitter, for instance, could be used for real-time updates. We often hear about vaccination centres having vaccines left over at the end of the day. A tweet could be sent out alerting the public and urging them to walk in and get vaccinated at that site while stocks last. Another example could be using Facebook Events to direct people to vaccination centres that operate on Saturdays. If they see that their friends will be going, it might encourage them to attend too.”
He adds that it is vital for those involved in the vaccine rollout, particularly government, to have a voice on social media otherwise others will speak for them. “People can only speculate and spread rumours if you’re not talking. This goes for anything from a PR disaster, to managing a pandemic.”
Oosthuizen concludes by saying that with 61% of the South African population using mobile devices to access the internet, the government – and all vaccine rollout role players – need to be making the most of tech tools to educate and assist people in getting vaccinated to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. “The technology exists to deliver dialogues at scale – whether publicly on Twitter or privately over WhatsApp – so let’s start having these life-saving conversations.”
For more information, go to: @Bluerobot_ – Blue Robot’s official Twitter Handle.