Over the past 10 months, researchers and scientists have been working around the clock to end the pandemic that has crippled the world.
Now that a vaccine has been approved by Health Canada, it’s time for the baton to be passed to another group that has their work cut out for them. Communicators.
For the rollout of the vaccine to be successful, procurement and logistics are only one part of the battle. Getting Canadians to roll up their sleeves is the pivotal crux to achieving herd immunity and getting back to our next normal.
To date, the ever-changing health messaging has rightly been criticized. The public health jargon and conflicting messaging have hurt our ability to stop the virus. And with social echo chambers and misinformation still a significant voice in the public realm, there is a steep challenge ahead.
There are two fundamental communication challenges.
The first is the logistical communications. That is to explain the who, when and how.
The last time any mass vaccination happened, it was a much different media environment. You could reach almost all Canadians through major news program mentions and a newspaper ad buy.
In today’s fragmented media landscape, you could spend more than any major consumer brand on advertising and still not reach every Canadian.
Not to mention, this can’t be a mass message. It has to be a message tailored to the person. The communication must explain when, where and how a person can get the vaccine.
In fact, it is more akin to modern e-commerce: where is your package and when will it arrive. The government must look at what systems already exist for innovative partnerships. How can we leverage a made-in-Canada platform, such as Shopify?
We’ve seen the risk of a rocky rollout with mismatched supply and demand with the flu vaccine this year, and frustration with mixed messaging on availability. This can’t happen again without risking vaccination efforts.
Not only that, this messaging needs to be noticed. Attention spans are at an all-time low – just eight seconds suggest some studies. While there is the desire to use the correct medical terminology, this can’t outweigh the need to be digestible and understandable. Avoid jargon when a simple word would do. Be direct. Also, don’t forget the need to capture a limited attention span through eye-catching visuals.
But there is an even more daunting challenge: building trust in the vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy is where much of the public focus has been. How do you properly communicate that the vaccine is safe and effective? Misinformation has hampered our fight against the virus to date. We live in a post-factual world and in a world where different realities exist.
For instance, a world where masks are a panacea and another where they trample on our civil liberties. This divide is especially pronounced online. There will be a loud voice and echo chamber that questions the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. And these voices have power.
Rolling out the vaccine as we would have in the past, even just five years ago, will fail. The key to success is mapping circles of influence and bringing them on side – from Twitch stars to right-wing political bloggers. This means the government may have to reach out to those whose views aren’t aligned.
It also means we cannot adopt a top-down communication message through only government officials and healthcare professionals. It has to be grassroots and it has to take risks.
What if the government hired a team of social content creators who have built businesses by working algorithms and creating content that resonates in the social echo chambers? Not just for 16-year-olds on Youtube, but those who have built powerful Facebook communities for older Canadians and parent groups.
These challenges are not governments’ alone. What will business do? And how will they communicate? What role do corporations have in being a source of truth to their employees, customers and stakeholders?
This is a time for communications to show its value, claim its seat at the leadership table and save lives.
It will require creativity, tearing up playbooks and stepping outside of safe communications models. Are you ready?