Tackling vaccination misinformation with local government communications
As misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine spreads, Granicus outlines key considerations for local government when delivering a successful vaccine communications campaign
As the UK vaccination programme enters a new phase with more groups invited for their turn, communicating about it takes place in a very different landscape. There is endless misinformation on the vaccine, online and on social media platforms which are more likely to be used by the younger groups next in line. Making sure that people are able to access the correct information is critical in order to encourage widespread take-up.
This is where education from a trusted source like your local council comes in. We saw this back in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic when people flocked to sign up to bulletins on our local authority customers’ websites. Unlike media reports, which can sometimes have a political leaning, councils work hard to be apolitical in the information they put out. There are whole policies and regulations devoted to it.
Many councils have begun to address this need with newsletters and understand the important role they can play in ensuring equitable vaccine distribution given their deep understanding of individual community context and ability to identify those communities and neighborhoods in greatest need. But what are the key considerations for local government when it comes to delivering a successful vaccine communications campaign?
Approaching vaccine communications
Firstly, acknowledge you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Information is available straight from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, packaged by Public Health England and the NHS in easy-to-understand formats. Look at what they’ve provided and which of your channels and audiences they’re best suited for.
Another way to get ahead of the game is to prepare a list of the different questions you hear the public asking. It’s worth speaking to your call centre staff to find out if they’re hearing questions about the vaccine. These will likely be along the the lines of safety, timing and logistics.
Councils are in a unique position to consider the different risk groups and why they might be hesitant to participate in the programme and therefore answer specific questions they may have. There’s a misconception that people’s concerns are limited to beliefs around ‘lack of testing’ but they are wide-ranging, including whether the ingredients are in keeping with religious or dietry requirements, and whether there are any adverse affects for certain health issues, for example.
It will be important for councils to question how they currently engage with their community. If you’ve been using a communication platform, such as govDelivery, and have asked your subscribers to answer questions about themselves, you can do some analysis and begin leveraging that data to build more targeted messaging. It’s also not too late to get started now. Reach out to your current audience and ask them to share a bit more about themselves – a brief poll can provide foundations for more targeted messaging.
Repetition of key messages is also important: the vaccine is safe, you will be contacted when it’s your turn, the ongoing importance of ‘hands/face/space’. If you have page watch bulletins, such as your Twitter feed, which go out automatically, add a linked image which goes to government guidance about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
Your staff are your biggest resource
More than ever, the value of local government and public sector staff has shown itself during the events of the past 12 months – but your staff are also human beings with their own lives, worries and questions and keeping everyone informed internally is equally important as informing the public when it comes to creating consistent messaging.
For those that have access to the platform for internal and external comms, consider creating a communications plan, with core messages around the vaccination programme to leverage. By circulating these key messages to the team, they will have a consistent set of messages to leverage in their day to day work.
Respond don’t react
If the messaging changes or if the questions you’re being asked take an unexpected turn, take a step back, take a breath and approach the new situation logically and (if possible) using the data at your disposal.
This is possibly the biggest challenge many communications professionals will be part of in their lifetime and the stakes are high – truly life or death when it comes to vaccinating as much of the population as possible. You’re not alone in this so reach out to your neighbouring authorities, peers or do some research to see what other people are doing.
And finally, evaluate as you go. It’s a lot easier to keep a record of how your bulletins, tweets or Facebook posts are working as you go than to go back in three months’ time and sift through piles of reports. Determine what it is you will measure to track success and keep a running total – this will also help you to pivot if you decide something isn’t working as well as you hoped.
Karen Steel is customer success manager at Granicus
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