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It’s the cool kid at school, the ‘woke’ liberal arts professor: How really knowing social media will make it work for you.

Matthew Stover and I first met in 2018 on Zoom. From my Tokyo home, I worked with him, located in Florida, via the usual remote collaboration tools to whip up a communications plan for Amazon’s new campus, which was big in the news at the time. The chance to learn with other PR professionals across the ocean was one of my favorite things about learning online in the Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program at Georgetown University.

Matthew started Stover Creative Agency immediately after our May 2019 graduation, where we met in person for the first time. His agency currently provides strategic social media and public relations content for clients throughout the US and Europe. In the meantime, the United States has gone through a whirlwind of change in the social media industry.

So naturally, I had to pick his brain for his best tips and the latest trends in social media.

Tell us about what kind of projects you are working on and how your career has developed up to now.

Stover Creative Agency primarily works with nonprofits, institutions, and universities to amplify their work in a digital space.  We’ve been fortunate to do social media work with London Business School by communicating the launch of their programs centered around Women leadership and LGBTQ+ leadership.  My team is also doing PR and social media work for the exciting launch of a revolutionary drone startup that aims to keep first responders safe.    Outside of smaller clients, we are also doing PR for Imagine Symphony Live, a project that hopes to build the next generation of orchestral music lovers. 

Even though my public relations career started in Miami over 15 years ago, I quickly felt a deeper connection to social media while studying at Georgetown.  I feel that social media is still the best avenue to have great engaging relationships with your target audiences. 

The ‘Creative’ part of my company refers to the ability to create content primarily in a digital space. As you know, I’m a passionate photographer so starting this company was a way for me to capitalize on those skills and leverage my public relations experience in one entity. 

As a social media strategist, how have you seen communication strategy changing as the pandemic develops?

I’ve seen a significant uptick in business.  More people are indoors and spending time on their phones and computers.  They’re spending more time on social media and therefore, want to make sure they are communicating to their audience.  Clients want more content so we’ve had to be creative in what we post.

What are your areas of strength in social media planning? Tell us about some of your particularly successful campaigns or projects. 

My social media planning relies heavily on my public relations background. At the end of the day, I ask myself the following questions: 

  • What is the client trying to communicate?
  • Who are their key publics?
  • What platforms are they on?
  • What does the key public need to hear to ENGAGE with my client?

Once these questions are answered, I have a much better understanding of a way forward.  Unless the client wants something quick and easy, I usually have time to do research on the client, their industry, their competitors, past promotions.  The research leads me to establish a social media goal, objectives, and strategies to make the most impact on the client’s needs. 

With London Business School, they really wanted to get participants into their Women In Leadership program.  We decided the best way to do that would be to communicate on behalf of some of the professors rather than communicate heavily from the institution itself.  I learned at Georgetown that current research indicates key publics react favorably to experts rather than the leaders to the organizations.  As a result of this strategy, the program had 39 participants when they expected just 20. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the holy trinity of social media. If you had to advise a client on how to best use each social media in less than 6 words, what would you tell them?

I like to personify those platforms: 

  • Twitter – A ‘woke’ liberal arts professor
  • Facebook – The fun aunt of the family
  • Instagram – The cool kid at school

What are some social media accounts you think are killing it?

I’m absolutely fascinated with the Twitter accounts of Wendy’s, Chick Fil-A and Popeye’s.  These are major brands but they tweet like they’re your rowdy neighbor from down the street. 

As a result, their engagement is sky high.

This tells you a few things:
1.  They have an incredible understanding of their key publics.
2.  They’re using social media for its ideal purpose: spur conversation and engagement.

All too often, I see so many organizations stifle their voice on social media because they feel they communicate with the same tone as a fundraising letter to a million-dollar donor. If they are a professor, they tweet like they’re writing the abstract for peer-reviewed research.

It’s ok to be slightly informal.  Social media responds to authenticity.  

Describe some problems you encounter often with your clients. How are they failing to achieve best engagement?

When I work with professors, they’re absolutely terrified of saying the wrong thing.  Sometimes, it really gets in the way of being authentic.  They are extremely risk-averse in what they say on social media.

Another common problem is the strategy of creating content.  Organizations think they have to create content every day rather than creating a week or a month’s worth of content all at once and using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite to automatically post that content. 

What do you see happening in the next year in social media or content marketing strategy? How can we be best prepared to leverage it?

I still see a path forward for influencers: especially micro- and nano influencers. I feel it’s an underutilized strategy for startups, nonprofits, and small businesses. 

Similar to establishing a relationship with journalists, it helps to establish a relationship with influencers. 

Any words of encouragement for budding communications professionals? What should they do to set themselves up for success?

That’s a difficult one.

I’ve noticed the biggest barrier to my success has been me.  I often get in my own way by: 

  • Doubting myself 
  • Overthinking problems and solutions 
  • Getting distracted 
  • Obsessing over the wrong things

Having self-awareness of your thought processes can really put you on a different footing. 

Matthew Stover

Matthew Stover is a public relations and social media professional based in the sunny beach town of Ft. Pierce, Florida. He started Stover Creative Agency in 2019 to help amplify the work of nonprofit organizations, institutions, universities, and thought leaders. Matthew is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program.

There’s more to brand rivalries than meets the eye

Jab, jab, block, right hook — duck. Is it a boxing match?

No, it’s a communications campaign and you’ve got a front-row seat. For Americans, hearing companies snipe and jab at each other is a daily occurrence.

Verizon vs. AT&T, Apple vs. Microsoft (and vice versa), Wendy’s versus McDonald’s — the list is endless. As consumers, we may enjoy in some light schadenfreude as the highly produced and jam-packed advertisements flit by, but are they actually working?

The millennials have spoken

A quick survey of millennial friends (sorry- most of my friends are millennials) revealed that the answer is not so simple.

With such a wide array of views on brand rivalry, it’s surprising that companies are still choosing this technique. In recent years, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, Nike vs. Adidas and McDonald’s vs. Burger King stand out in consumers’ memory.

What’s surprising is consumers recognize rivalries even among brands, such as Nike and Adidas who mostly have it out on the pitch, that avoid direct confrontation, in addition to the overt rivalries between social media provokers like Burger King and Chick-fil-A.

Burger King’s tweets have been gloves off, even offering to honor a discount promotion offered by McDonalds and lead the consumer to the closest Burger King instead.

If that’s not a good application of mapping software for brand rivalry, I don’t know what is.

But respondents’ opinions on what makes a convincing message are highly subjective. While some respondents preferred “data driven statements,” others liked “playful brand communication,” the cleverness of the campaign and “humbling acknowledgment of their rival.” Many agreed that the messages should be honest and give accurate insight about how competing products differ.

Survey: (Respondents=15)

The takeaway from all of this is that any brand considering brand rivalry style of communication should make it appropriate for the TPO, their brand image and industry. Is it just me, or have we seen a drop in overt brand rivalry since the start of the pandemic?

It seems that there are bigger fish to fry in the advertising world.

Standard practice in the U.S. is tentatively adopted in Japan

Momotaro (Peach Boy) Goes to Devil Island by Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892)
Original Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892) Japanese Woodblock Print
Momotaro (Peach Boy) Goes to Devil Island

In Japan, comparative advertising has been historically avoided due to business practices. Overt comparison is distasteful and advertising agencies haven’t necessarily limited themselves to representing only only client in each industry, as is popular in the U.S. (Hence the creation of “conflict shops,” the creation of separate agency brands to give competing clients different representation)

In 1987, the Japan Fair Trade Commission loosened regulations and established three rules for comparative advertisements, thereby effectively acknowledging and allowing them in Japan.

While outright comparison is still largely taboo in Japanese culture, indirect comparison can be found if observing closely. One good example is the 2017 ad campaign for Pepsi (whom you might remember as launching the “Pepsi Challenge” during the Cola Wars period of 1970s -1980s) themed on the traditional fairy tale “Momotarou (Peach boy).”

It is often said that comparative advertisements are the weapon of the underdog — and in this case Pepsi embraced that image.

Momotarou is a boy born from a peach who has adventures with various animals until finally visiting demon island and slaying the powerful demon. While tapping into the image of Pepsi as a scruffy underdog (Momotarou) the 5-TV-commercial series drums up the viewer’s sense of righteousness and excitement with movie-like production values and the actor Shun Oguri.

Though Coca Cola never enters the picture directly, anyone with prior knowledge of the Momotarou legend and the red demon defeated in the end will have no difficulty connecting this ad campaign to the battle in the real-world soda industry.

Pepsi took it a step further by making the commercial itself “user generated content” by casting Pepsi drinkers in the final episode.

The success of this commercial can be attributed to its incorporation of the three elements of successful brand rivalry (attack ad) content and adaption to Japanese communication culture: high context, low (direct) confrontation.

Source: Slideshare by Dirk Herbert, Chief Strategy Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network U.S.

Does brand rivalry really exist in Japan?

During a short presentation on U.S. brand rivalry, Japanese PR experts in my professional circle agreed that indeed the brand rivalries of the U.S. were a form of communication in and of themselves, effective at leaving strong impressions. But when it came to Japanese brands, brand rivalry is an unpopular style, they emphasized

Even comparative advertisement, as noted above, wasn’t clearly allowed until 1987, after so-called “external pressure” 外圧 from foreign brands looking to apply the technique to the Japanese market.

But is it really true that Japanese brands don’t leverage antagonism to make their own brands shine? I posed the question to my Japanese colleagues.

Example 1: In-group rivalry

Best exemplified by idol groups like AKB48, Nogizaka 46 and Kanjani 8, idol groups are the perfect place for building engagement between fans via the rivalry of members. AKB48 and Nogizaka 46 perfect this by holding annual “elections” where “centers” (leaderes) are elected, resulting in tearful and grateful acceptance speeches.

Example 2: Corporate monologue

Unlike dialogues in Western culture, Japanese debates are traditionally a long monologue in which the speaker expresses a series of opinions, explains Professor Yasushi Ogasawara of Meiji University.

Certain types of advertisements by Japanese companies can be categorized as this monologue-type of debate. An example from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun:

Advertisement by Iwatani Corporation published in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun calling on readers to move the world with hydrogen.

In this example, advertiser Iwatani asks the reader to question if the human race has the energy to power the next 100 years, then espouses the benefits of hydrogen: it doesn’t dry up, it can be used to power cars and send people to the moon, etc. It is a monologue against society’s current energy choices.

Example 3: Domestically producedappeal

The Japanese consumer considers “made in Japan” to be a guarantee of quality, and for no small reason. Standards for quality are high in Japan, and Japanese manufacturers work hard to meet them. As more imported goods, especially food, enters the Japanese market, Japanese manufacturers have to fight off foreign brands sold at cheaper prices.

One standard approach is the “made in Japan” appeal. Take for example, this advertisement created by Japan Agriculture (JA), the huge cooperative that buys and helps distribute the products of small-scale farmers and other food producers. (For more about how JA works, see this great blog post on Hackerfarm)

It superimposes a white monologue of text over a sukiyaki pot filled with presumably domestic ingredients. A summary translation of the text follows.

Japanese people tend to purchase domestic only when they are worried for their safety

Food problems are prominent in the news now. Yet while you might check production area from time to time, most of the time you are probably purchasing the cheapest choice, imported from abroad. Actually, more than half of our food is imported from abroad. The more we choose imported food, the more our food self-sufficiency rate drops. To prevent this problem, we all need to purchase more domestic ingredients — after all, Japan is blessed with the environment to grow many different delicious ingredients. JA Group will continue to strive to support local farming and communities so that it can bring safe domestic ingredients to consumers.”

My Japanese colleagues were put aback by this example. “It’s just encouraging consumers to support their own country’s products — it’s not necessarily nationalistic or rivalry,” one man commented.

But look closely, and you can see how the advertisement lays out the pros and cons of the products on both sides of the dichotomy of domestic v. foreign, while also calling on the three key elements for a good attack ad: rational, emotional, and cultural. Sure, the ad doesn’t include an overt comparison of any product in particular, but it does acknowledge the antagonism of domestic and foreign-produced products, while encouraging the false impression that all foreign-produced products are less safe than those that are domestic-produced.

Ad campaigns and messaging plans are merely an extension of the varied rhetorical devices developed over centuries of human interaction, taking advantage of the cultural, emotional and rational triggers inherent to us humans. Take a closer look at the messaging around you and you’ll find there is more than meets the eye.

Feel free to comment or message me with your realizations and thoughts about ads, messaging, and rhetorical tactics in the public sphere!

Cafes bustle while sento disappear — how is your neighborhood changing?

It’s been over four months since the explosion of COVID-19 infections around the world. While you’ve been cooped indoors, how has your neighborhood been changing?

One of the bright spots of social distancing is walks. That time we might have spent commuting to some other area, we now spend traversing the roads and alleys connecting back to our homes, maybe taking the time to greet the local cats.

Local cats seem to be properly cautious, maintaining social distance.

What have you discovered? How has your neighborhood changed?

My neighborhood in northwest Tokyo is a an old shitamachi, a traditionally residential neighborhood populated with independently run shops, restaurants, and Japanese-style snack stands. Private business owners have been hit hard by the pandemic, yet our neighborhood seems to be bustling.

Low infection levels in Tokyo mean that businesses can operate with almost no restriction, though all restaurant staff wear masks and do the best they can to distance diners, ventilate, and separate.

Thoroughly branded protective sheets at a Tully’s in Sunshine Aquarium in Ikebukuro.

At Ueno’s Ameyokochou, an outside market launched during World War II as a black market, there is a whole new stand dedicated to COVID-19 protective equipment.

Protective equipment stand in Ueno’s Ameyokochou market

Any retail store seems to offer masks, hand sanitizer, etc. Even vegetable stands in the Japanese countryside are offering handmade cloth masks as a sort of new-normal handicraft.

At the same time, prevailing trends are slowly but surely underway. Privately-run B&Bs and restaurants with elderly owners in Japan have decided to shut their doors early as the risks of operation have exceed the rewards.

Sento, or public baths, have always been run on razor-thin profit margins. In just 15 years, the number of sento in Tokyo have dropped by 50 percent.

A sento being demolished in Arakawa Ward, Spring 2020. Hand-painted mountains are a staple of sento design.

“Corona bankruptcy” has been warned against by experts in Japan, but as of yet, less than 500 businesses have reported COVID-19 as a reason for their bankruptcy since January 2020. Amidst this, Tokyo has the highest number and some experts predict the surge is yet to come.

But some businesses will continue to thrive — essential businesses, obviously, but even non-essential “third-place” businesses seem to be going strong.

Ironically, while I write this in my local coffee shop, masked up, I am surrounded by full tables of locals to whom I will never speak. Working from home frees us to spend more time in our neighborhoods. At the same time, public health restrictions have eliminated festivals, events, parties and any other opportunity to organically meet and get to know new people.

We are in the same place, but we are, quite literally, socially distant.

Our local cafe on a Wednesday afternoon

Our attention, which might be turned towards networking and getting to know our neighbors, is instead directed towards our physical environment and the movement of people around us. The writer continues to observe.

How have you observed your neighborhood changing? For better? For worse? Let me know in the comments or in the poll up top.

How cancel culture is a little like 村八分, and social media is the new “village”

The phrase “cancel culture” has been popping up more and more lately. While the phrase has been around for years, most prominently on US Twitter, mainstream media and public figures have caught on too.

Google Trends results for “cancel culture”

Cancel culture, for those who aren’t avid Twitter users, is when many thousands of users call for boycott (ending) of someone who has made an untoward comment at some point in the past, typically about a minority demographic.

村八分 (mura hachibu), for those who aren’t Japanese speakers, means the shunning of someone from social life. It is said to have originated in the Edo Era and refer to a villager being excluded from 80% (hachibu) of village (mura) life due to a transgression against social rules including failing to contribute to communal work, etc. The 80% refers to the parts of village life the transgressor is excluded from: births, wedding, construction, etc.. The remaining 20% contains the communal issues they are included in to protect the village as a whole: fighting fires and managing funerals.

People are in danger of being mura hachibu-ed in modern Japanese society too, and the word is well-used, though now it refers to exclusion from polite society more than social services.

Social media has created modern villages full of mobilized villagers. Our posts may be subject to judgement of many millions of these villagers, who tend towards mobbing. It’s no coincidence the New York Times made a cancel culture spoof video set in medieval Europe:

But there is a major distinction between cancel culture and mura hachibu. The former’s effect is almost completely contained on social media. Damning, yes, if your livelihood is built mainly there, but decidedly less devastating if you’ve built your fame anywhere else.

Meanwhile, the mura hachibu affects the shunned in a very real way — it cuts them off from the very social fabric of their community. In the U.S., it is very rare to find an issue that all agree on, so being shunned on social media by even a large group of users doesn’t translate into real-world shunning — There is always another group there ready to accept the shunned. (That said, cyber bullying is a real and serious problem in Japanese society contributing to mental health problems and even suicide)

The Central Park Karen case is a recent example of someone shunned in real life — this “Karen” was fired. She took real-world action and called the real-world police on a Black man, just at a time when the American public and local government were keenly aware of the dangers of police brutality against unarmed Black men. Her carefully written apology fell on deaf ears.

sticky note with apology
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

So is the apology, a point of great difference between the U.S. and Japan, a waste of breath? In the U.S., it appears it might be.

A 2015 study found that subjects felt apologies made them feel “unaffected” or made them “more likely to desire that the individual be punished.” A smaller study found that no matter what the apology was for, the very act of apologizing appeared to lower support for the politician in question. (And maybe to no surprise, as an “apology” originally meant a defense of oneself or justification.)

Let’s look at modern Japan’s treatment of the famous who have broken social rules.

In recent years, many a politician has scandalized the Japanese public with embezzling, corruption, gambling, etc. while countless celebrities have filed for flashy divorces, been busted with drugs, or been caught cheating on their picture-perfect wives.

In any of these cases, a perfunctory 謝罪会見 (shazai kaiken; apology press conference) is held, where the guilty party, invariably dressed in a black suit and with solemn make up and hair, expresses their regret for having inconvenienced everyone with their scandal with a deep, X-second-long bow. (It’s such classic material that several online media publish best/worst apology rankings annually.)

But unlike mura hachibu, despite the searing headlines and intense media focus, many of these transgressors eventually wiggle their way back into the political or entertainment worlds. (Interestingly enough, some celebrities make their comebacks in nontraditional media channels, such as online video)

Japanese idol, Junosuke Taguchi does a dogeza after release from a detention center where he was held on charges of possession of marijuana, a serious offense in Japan. (Sankei Digital)

In fact, public apologies and even 土下座 (dogeza), one of the highest forms of apology in modern Japan, seem to have appeared on the scene after World War 1. This is also the time of mass media’s advent. The Japanese public has grown cynical, and dogeza are now the target of derision or suspected of being a “performance.” Yet, apologies are still requisite in the public realm. A successful return to former glory is subject to some complicated calculus based on original popularity, sincerity of apology, public sentiment at the time, and the severity of the violation.

While it seems clear what the “rules” are in the case of Japan’s shunning, and public figures tend to stay away from the touchy subjects.

In the U.S. having no opinion on a subject lead to attack as quickly as having the wrong one. Even a thoughtfully presented argument on one topic can be reduced down to its insinuations, alleged intolerance and XXXphobia, all while ignoring the veracity of the parts.

In the U.S., stronger demands for political correctness and sensitivity towards a wide diversity of groups turn the public sphere into a minefield of sorts. One statement can trigger an explosion, and no amount of explaining and dialogue seems to help. Even brands need beware: “the majority of consumers (76%) have taken an action in response to a brand doing something they disagreed with, including no longer buying from the brand, switching to a competitor, or discouraging others from buying from or supporting that brand,” explains Alison DaSilva, Managing Director, Purpose and Impact, Zeno Group.

Some say it has gone too far. A group of intellectuals in Harper’s Bazaar call the current situation an “Intolerant Climate.” The nature of the debate, particularly on Twitter where posts are limited to 180 letters, are tending towards the ad hominem and do not contribute to a constructive debate, they claim.

So how do we balance tolerance with free speech?

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

Bashing itself may be a gut reaction born from the fear that an unpleasant statement could spread and influence if not nipped at the bud. Our answer to that may lie in trust.

At the end of the day, we must trust that

1) there is such a thing as truth,

2) our fellow citizens have the ability to understand truth while also having an individual opinion

3) constructive debate can be had if all parties make a concerted effort

4) even if we don’t all agree, we can create a shared society where none of us are murahachibu-ed.

The world is no longer filled with isolated villages bound with oppressive practices, is it really in our best interest to recreate them? A well-reasoned, well-researched, polite counterargument is perhaps one of the best ways we can contribute to our own societies.

So you’ve mastered Instagram? Gaga, Selena, and John have some tips for you

Say what you like, Instagram has reached unforeseen heights in terms of users and user engagement. Its users make up nearly 13% of the world’s population. You might scrunch your nose at the exorbitant amounts earned by influencers such as Kim Kardashian and others, but Instagram’s influence over a certain demographic is undeniable.

But even as the platform matures, its influencers aren’t necessarily resting on their laurels. Take Selena Gomez, queen of the millennial pop ballad. Her most recent music video release “Past Life” is a cute nod to the “new normal.” Posted on Instagram, and filmed on Instagram Live, the video simultaneously shows us even celebrities are “working from home” while also giving fans a prominent part in the production.

Who do you keep looking at off screen, Selena? What’s that just out your window, Trevor?

You’d be right to think the audio is overlayed from a professional recording session. Neither Instagram Live, Zoom or other live streaming services can completely eliminate lag.

Jacob Collier, hailed as a multi-instrumentalist wunderkind, has gained some attention lately for seemingly having devised a work-around for lag when live streaming. Apparently this is a sort of holy grail for the music industry as it struggles to find ways to reproduce the live experience digitally.

You know how awkward it is when you talk over someone due to lag? Well imagine that on a mega-celebrity diva scale. Yeah, some innovation is needed. Especially as Jacob Collier is conducting weekly Instagram Live sessions. That would get awkward very quickly.

But that’s not all. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez recently opened up their Instagram accounts for takeovers by anti-racist leaders and organizations.

While some might doubt the sincerity of their motivations, these celebrities have given control of a very powerful part of their personal brand over to a cause they believe in. That, in and of itself, means something.

At the end of the day, social media is a necessary evil, becoming more and more necessary as we are are forced to stay distant from each other. Any smart communicator would be wise to keep an eye on social media innovators, and hey, maybe even make some bold moves of your own.

*Note: I’m sure I’ve missed some great examples of innovative social media use. Feel free to tip me off via my contact page. I’m always looking for more inspiration.

I got a PCR Test in Japan (lucky me)

In Japan, PCR tests are as precious as gold and much, much rarer. If you don’t have above 37.5 degree temperature, contact history with someone who has tested positive, you have to do some serious arm twisting to get one.

Sunday night. After a good, hard work out I started having some muscle pains. Okay, so I’m approaching my mid-thirties, not too surprising? But the muscle pains spread to my whole body and my throat is sore. Monday morning. Muscle pains still live and well and now my body doesn’t want to get out of bed. After the obligatory Google search of my symptoms, I conclude it could be a lot of different things, but I can’t rule out COVID-19. Not to mention that Minister Nishimura has just publicly asked anyone with discomfort in their throat to stay within their prefecture.

Unluckily, I had lost my thermometer (I’m tempted to blame my toddler) so I had no idea of my real temperature. Weakness number one.

Faithfully, I called the Tokyo COVID-19 Consultation Hotline to report my symptoms. “Have you been in close contact with someone who has tested positive?” “I don’t know.” “Hmmm, and your temperature is how much?” “I don’t know, maybe 37.3?” “And your regular temperature is?” “36.8?” “Your Japanese sounds like you are from a different country, where are you from?” “Why is that important?” “Well, you might have travelled outside of the country recently…” “Maybe you’re not aware, but foreigners cannot come back into Japan right now so that is impossible” … etc.

My next step, in any case, was to visit the closest designated clinic and be examined there.

At the clinic, I was directed to ring the bell, then guided into a partitioned-off section of the clinic which had a bench, hand sanitizer, and some kleenex. The doctor and nurses, all three wrapped up in PPE, asked me the same questions, but this time I took my temperature and it was 38.5. Well over the guideline of 37.5. Still, it took some pushing.

“So you said you haven’t been in close contact with someone who tested positive? Hmmm” “I don’t think so. But actually, XXXX.” (Information withheld for privacy reasons) “Ah, and so you are worried about that?” “I think I should be?” “…Well, we are being told not to test right now, but okay, we’ll see what we can do.”

After a check with a large hospital two stops away, the doctor found out that there was a 3-day waiting period. Thankfully, I was given another option of a university hospital a 20-minute walk from my house. “Tell absolutely no one where this testing site is,” I was cautioned.

The next morning at 10am, I arrived, showed my letter of introduction, and sat in a partitioned area with emergency tape enforcing social distancing in the seats. An elderly couple sat in front of me, the woman with an ice pack wrapped in a scarf and applied to her neck. “What could have brought them here,” I wondered. On my left was a middle-aged man. A well-dressed and sprightly man distributed forms confirming our agreement to receive the test, coming and going with a waft of cologne. Finally , it’s my turn.

I’m guided quickly into another room partitioned off and ushered behind a DIY-ed plastic shield of sorts with holes for the medical practitioner’s hands. “I’ll swab both of your nostrils, so please lift your chin up.” Jab. The swab was stuck deep in my left nostril into soft tissue I had never been aware of. “We’ll keep it here for 5 seconds and then do the right side.” My eyes teared up. It was over, and I left the hospital crying and a little shell-shocked.

According to the documents, I’ll have my results in a day or two. Fingers crossed it’s just a cold or something.

Update: 6 hours after my test, the results are in, and I am negative. Phew.