Salford Business School 03.06.20

How Joe Wicks dominated lockdown and made us all feel better

Joe Wicks has been one of the stars of lockdown without doubt. More than three million people tune into his daily exercise routines, as he keeps the nation’s children, and adults, healthy.

As lockdown begins to slowly ease, schools reopen and people begin to return to the workplace, digital experts from the University of Salford, with colleagues at Emlyon University in France, have studied the Joe Wicks phenomenon using network and sentiment analysis, to learn how he grew to be so influential. And uncover links how he made us all feel better during the Covid-19 period.

When lockdown began much was made of the need to ensure that young people continued to learn from home. But there were inevitable concerns as well about their physical well-being and, by implication, their mental health.

Joe Wicks started delivering P.E. workouts for school children via YouTube. Typical content sees Wicks running through a vigorous programme of house-based physical activities, which is accompanied by his online sharing of lifestyle comments and other content. Having recently broken the Guinness World Record for the most viewers of a fitness live stream, Wicks’ influence is incredible.

Using a combination of social network and sentiment analyses academics can observe how his influence grew. Dr Alex Fenton, Digital Business expert from the University of Salford Business School, said: “We mapped social media conversations pertaining to his Twitter account. We also analysed comments posted about Wicks across various social media platforms. Our findings have been striking.”

Network visualisations reveal a constellation of influence and influencers that is reminiscent of something from outer space. Packed with a dense network of interrelated links and communications, one can clearly observe the central role that Wicks has played in sustaining a community of exercisers.

Of course, the Body Coach is the shining star; but when zooming a telescope in to look at others who appear in this network one sees the likes of Piers Morgan and Caitlan Moran. Such stars haven’t shone as brightly as Wicks though they have orbited around him, both reflecting his influence and directing others towards him.

Joe Wicks might have been doing the hard physical work, though others such as Moran, Morgan and the wider media have transmitted his rays out across the constellation.

And in among the social media chatter, the Body Coach has effected some significant changes in the motives, attitudes and behaviours of people. Spurred on by a perceived need to stay active in lockdown and minds shifted towards a new relationship with physical well-being, large numbers of people have been working out on a daily basis.

And they have been feeling good about it as well, as our sentiment analysis has shown. Indeed, comments posted on Instagram by a couple of users capture the mood of how people feel.

Professor Simon Chadwick, of Emlyon University in France, said: “All this suggests an interesting future direction for public policy, particular with regards to health. Instead of staid ministers and sterile television adverts, perhaps the way forward for government is for it to strategically build and communicate via networks of social media influencers. Stars like Joe Wicks apparently shine brighter than people like Boris Johnson.”

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