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Tuesday, July 28 • 14:46 - 16:15
"Doctors Without Borders – Social Media Crisis Communications and the Ebola Outbreak"

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Author: Wayne Leung


In March 2014 an Ebola epidemic was declared in Guinea. The outbreak would quickly spiral out of control and affect neighbouring countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was on the ground and realized that the outbreak was unprecedented. Seeing that there were not enough resources being mobilized by local and international governments to effectively combat the epidemic, MSF undertook an aggressive communications campaign heavily relying on social media to raise awareness of the crisis and compel governments to help. 

In July 2014, Americans working overseas in Ebola-affected countries contracted the disease. News media started reporting heavily on Ebola but placed a disproportionate emphasis on the relatively low risk to populations in North America. A lack of information and public education about Ebola in North America meant that MSF faced a public backlash and legislators threatened to impose quarantine measures on returning aid workers that would unduly impede the ability of our staff to work in the field. 


Early on, MSF’s objective was to raise awareness of the epidemic and advocate for governments to dedicate more resources to stopping its spread. Social media was integral to the awareness and advocacy strategy. 

After the first cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the US, MSF had to react and focus on a secondary objective of countering misinformation and protecting the organization against negative accusations in the media and online. Social media monitoring tools were essential for capturing and analyzing the online discussion. 


- We undertook an aggressive campaign on Twitter/Facebook providing regular updates about our work in the field. 

- We engaged online outlets to cover the story, giving access to our frontline staff doctors for live online chats on programs such as Aljazeera’s AJ Stream and news websites including Global News, Canadian Press, and CBC News. 

- We created a suite of original multimedia content, for sharing across social media channels including photo slideshows, infographics, an interactive guide to our treatment facilities, online profiles of our doctors, and web videos including a video of an Ebola facility filmed by an aerial drone. 

- We held an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit to directly engage our online audience. 

- We also webcast a public information town hall in Canada and engaged our online audience through discussion via our social media channels. 


- Eventually governments did mobilize additional resources to combat Ebola. 

- We mitigated negative public sentiment toward our organization and negative online comments ceased. 

- Our social media monitoring indicated that monthly mentions of our organization’s name across the social web spiked throughout the crisis peaking at five times the baseline level. 

- Our web and social media analytics revealed that our Ebola-related content became some of our most widely-shared social media content. 

Future Work: 

- Assess the impact of our social media strategy throughout the course of the Ebola epidemic. 

- Use the lessons learned to inform our crisis communications plans in the future 

avatar for Wayne Leung

Wayne Leung

Digital Communications Officer, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada
Writer, Editor and Communications Professional; Torontonian, Traveller, Techie, Foodie, Humanitarian and devotee of the theatre & performing arts

Tuesday July 28, 2015 14:46 - 16:15
(9th Floor) TRS 3-176 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (13)