Karimnagar, Coronavirus, And An Underwhelmed Population

Karimnagar has a coronavirus problem, but their citizens don’t seem to be worried.

The fastest growing city in India’s newest state, Karimnagar has largely been famous for its granite and agro-based industries. In fact, to those in the know, it has been known as the “City of Granites.” It had even been chosen to be part of PM Narendra Modi’s Smart Cities Mission.

In essence, it was one of hundreds of bustling, growing, high-potential Indian towns that had yet to make it’s mark on the country. That is, until March 19, 2020.

Covid-19 In Karimnagar

7 Indonesian pilgrims — it was later discovered that 10 tourists were involved — tested positive for Covid-19, five days after they had taken a train down south from New Delhi.

In response, the Karimnagar authorities shut down the city, and sent out 16 rapid response teams to secure the 16 mandals under their jurisdiction.

Despite the fantastic response, cases continue to grow, and Telangana has now confirmed 33 cases in the state. The 30th was a companion of the Indonesian tourists, who spent a couple of days with them.

But, what has this got to do with an advertising & marketing publication?

“I Am Not Scared”

Even as the most densely populated city in Telangana descends into door-to-door screening, and has had 10 infected tourists walking around town and interacting with everyone, the people’s response does not seem to have changed.

Our internal data at Lokal shows that Karimnagar — a district where we have one of the strongest presences of any news outlet, online or offline — is interested in coronavirus stories. Our DAUs (daily average users, or the average number of people that visit our app everyday) have shot up 15% in March 2020 due to our pandemic coverage.

However, there still seems to be no widespread panic in Karimnagar. In metros across India, from Mumbai to Kolkata, and Chennai to New Delhi, panic has led to extreme social distancing at the earliest stage possible.

Meanwhile, in the fastest growing city in Telangana, which has actually seen and continues to see a spike in cases, interest continues to be academic. When we talk to our users, they love our coverage. But, they do not seem to see the virus as a major threat to their lives.

“I am not scared,” says Sravanthi, a local housewife, “but, I am taking preventive measures. I use a napkin or mask when I go out.”*

“We Need More Precautions”

Sitting in Bengaluru, me, my roommate and my girlfriend have been stewing in our own panic about the virus. It may just be the cabin fever caused by 10 days of work-from-home, but we’re convinced we’re next.

We consume information about the virus — from the latest WHO updates to infection rate analyses from every amateur epidemiologist on the Internet — as if we are the last fortress holding back the invaders. We must put in place the best practices, or our beloved Bengaluru will fall to Covid-19.

And yet, between us, we don’t know a single person who has been infected.

Meanwhile, Lokal’s users in Karimnagar, who actually face this danger and can’t all afford to social distance, seem to be relatively calm. They are loving the updates, but seemingly out of interest rather than fear.

It does not seem to have sunk in that this can hurt them, and even when it has, it seems to be far less scary than life’s other problems.

“I use napkins, masks, sanitisers and I am maintaining distance from strangers,” says Gouthami, a local kirana store owner. “I share a lot of Lokal’s articles on coronavirus, but we need more precautions.”*

Engagement Patterns Don’t Indicate Motives

Media companies across the board are seeing a spike in interest with this pandemic. But, the motives for consuming this news vary wildly.

To the Internet-savvy, the constant and consistent stream of updates seems large and scary. Ironically, our experience of the Internet, and our Internet bubbles, have led us all to our own trusted views that we are living in the end-times. Calm voices are hard to hear over the din.

However, when you have a healthy distrust of the notifications popping up on your smartphone — where everything from a WhatsApp forward to a e-commerce app’s discount is treated with suspicion — these repeated warnings can sound over the top and fake.

The seemingly timid solutions don’t help either. Wear a mask, use some sanitiser, try not to shake your friend’s hand. That all sounds doable. In fact, it sounds easy. So easy, that clearly this virus does not seem like a big deal at all.

Karimnagar — one of India’s many bustling Tier-III towns — is just getting used to having Internet access. They may enjoy reading and sharing Lokal’s news on the coronavirus, but they do not seem to be scared of it.

For our users, the Internet just hasn’t earned their trust yet. They are happy to learn, but they take everything with a pinch of salt. To them, it seems to be hard to take these warnings seriously since it is largely coming from the Internet rather than their own communities.

But, What Has This Got To Do With My Business?

It is important to recognise that uniform user behaviour is not caused by uniform user thought processes. In fact, if you do have uniform user behaviour across geographic demographics, be worried!

We at Lokal got suspicious, and we started doing market research. That information has helped us overhaul our coronavirus coverage, leading to a 6.5% spike in DAUs on a single day (22/03/2020).

When you are talking about user numbers in the lakhs, a 6.5% spike is cause for celebration. Especially after everyone is expecting downward trends because we have been working from home for a week!

But, what does this mean for your business?

Are you seeing a bump in sales in your luxury soap after the onset of the coronavirus? Have you considered that Tier-I sales may be driven by hoarding, whereas Tier-III sales may be driven by the customer’s desire to boost their social standing in light of the increased media spotlight on the importance of having soap at home?

Are you seeing increased losses at your petrol bunk chain since the pandemic outbreak? Have you considered that Tier-I losses may be because all but essential travel has stopped due to social distancing and fear? However, Tier-III losses may be because all but essential travel has stopped due to increased fuel taxes?

Are you unsure of how your business is being affected by this issue? Please reach out to me at tarutr@getlokalapp.com, or at malhotratarutr@gmail.com. If you are uncomfortable talking to me over email, you can DM me on my LinkedIn page or my Twitter profile. I would love to talk to each and every one of you personally!

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*Identities and quotes have been mildly altered to protect identities, and to overcome translation issues.