Popular Science is hosting weekly Twitter Q&A sessions to answer readers' questions on the COVID-19 virus.
The first session was hosted on March 13. It was initially set to run for an hour, but ended up running for over two hours, due to demand, according to a spokesperson.
During that time, the Q&A session generated more than 850,000 impressions and over 4,000 engagements.
Popular Science has 1.3 million Twitter followers.
The Bonnier Corp. brand decided to make it a weekly initiative, due to its popularity and the fact that information regarding the virus continues to rapidly change.
The Q&A sessions are spearheaded by engagement editor Ryan Perry and senior editor Purbita Saha. Questions are answered by Popular Science’s science desk, including articles editor Rachel Feltman, associate editor Claire Maldarelli and assistant editor Sara Chodosh.
The questions range in complexity. A simple question: Is using hot water better than using cold water when washing your hands?
More complicated questions include: How did virus enter the human body for the first time?
The second live Twitter Q&A was held Friday.
Feltman told Publishers Daily the team noticed Popular Science readers were fatigued by the constant COVID-19 news cycle “churning out content in a way that’s not always helpful,” which can make people feel “more afraid.”
The PopSci team felt they could “use Twitter as a platform to connect directly with our readers at a time when people really need direct connection,” Feltman said.
“We really want people to remember they are part of a global, regional and national community. That's why it’s so important to stay informed about COVID-19.”
Popular Science has a running set of posts online that it continues to update.
Some 3.7 million people are reading the publication's COVID-19 coverage, which includes news, features, practical tips and explainers, like an article about how to not touch your face, and another on soups that freeze well.
The Twitter Q&A session has helped “inform our coverage as well,” Feltman said. “A lot of the questions were on topics we had written articles about. So it was a great reminder that a lot of people will have these questions and not really know how to seek out information about them or be embarrassed to seek out information.”
“It is a reminder to serve our readers content — not just write it and hope they find it,” she added.
Popular Science accepts questions via direct message on Twitter during the sessions. One user, for example, asked about sexual contact during COVID-19. “We had a great follow-up article on it — a lot of people told us it has been really useful for them,” she said.
The process of answering questions during the Q&A session is “similar to reporting other stories,” Feltman said. Perry and Saha collect dozens of questions from Twitter during the live sessions, and the rest of the team answers them.
Research is sometimes done in real-time, because information continues to change as the world learns more about COVID-19.
“Clare, Sara and I are trained science journalists. We have lots of specialized knowledge in evaluating stories, tracking down sources in health and science," Feltman said.
She stressed the importance of creating a sense of community during this time.
"Lots of people are feeling lonely and scared," Feltman said. "We want to give them whatever it is they need."