How’s Your COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy Going?
Welcome to the 15th month of 2020! As a sentient being, you’re undoubtedly deep in the throes of COVID-19 fatigue. I apologize upfront for adding a bit more information to your overload, so I offer this escape clause: Exit this article now if your organization has already set its vaccination policy, has built a vaccination communication strategy, and is already rolling out that strategy measurably and successfully with your employees.
Still with me? Let’s dive right in.
What’s Your COVID-19 Vaccination Policy?
My esteemed colleague Claire Pancerz handles this topic very efficiently and effectively in this article. Please read it if your organization is weighing its policy options.
Also, note that your vaccine policy and communication strategy development can (and should) occur on parallel tracks. Your policy may shift over time, and your communication strategy should anticipate possible future shifts and not paint your organization into a specific policy corner prematurely.
Four Questions to Ask When Building Your Vaccine Communication Strategy
There’s a significant opportunity here. Fewer than half (45 percent) of employees surveyed by The Conference Board say their companies have communicated a COVID-19 vaccination policy. So, below are four questions to ask yourself and your leadership.
1. Who Is Your Audience?
Winning in COVID-19 vaccine confidence is far from one-size-fits-all. Segmenting audiences allows for more empathetic, targeted messages. How well a particular message will be received depends on a variety of factors, including an individual’s political affiliation, race, ethnicity, age, and location.
Vaccine hesitancy comes from a constellation of political, social, and psychological factors. For example: While many people respond to messages about the importance of getting vaccinated for the greater good, the appeal of such messaging isn’t universal. For those with a strong individualistic mindset, a more effective strategy would emphasize themes of personal security and accountability.
2. What Are Your Audience’s Concerns?
Worries, fears, and skepticism shouldn’t be dismissed. The most universal ones are that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t safe or aren’t effective. Unfortunately, many people get their vaccine information from social media feeds and other sometimes-unreliable sources. Misinformation is the No. 1 deterrent in vaccinations.
Ask employees if they have been vaccinated for anything previously — 95 percent of the time the answer is yes. Ask them why they feel this vaccination is different.
A crucial part of effective messaging is meeting your employees where they are and treating their concerns as valid. Emphasize what can be gained from immunity and open up the dialogue, allowing people to voice their addressable concerns.
Create messages that recognize specific concerns and position the vaccine as something that can alleviate them. Frame vaccination as a desirable opportunity not to be missed, appealing to their FOMO.
3. Is the Message Factual and Accessible?
Avoid data overload. There is a big difference between transparency and accessibility. The first is important — but without the second, the signal risks getting lost in the noise.
This series of videos from Johnson & Johnson is an excellent example of how to make complex and evolving information digestible without watering it down or making it patronizing.
4. Who Is the Messenger?
The person delivering the message matters because people are more likely to reconsider beliefs inconsistent with scientific consensus when that information comes from someone they agree with on other issues.
Having Dr. Anthony Fauci publicly receive the vaccine sends an important message, while seeing Kamala Harris, Mike Pence, Tiffany Haddish, Matthew McConaughey get vaccinated is going to help sway other groups. And while national leaders and celebrities are helpful, trusted local messengers are essential. This could include long-time managers, corporate leaders, local physicians and nurses, and even hair stylists and barbers.
What about Time and Media?
Successful communication isn’t a one-time happening. Use multiple communication channels, multiple times to achieve effective frequency. Consider both video and written messaging. Deliver via print, email, social media, and text-message systems if you have them, and include messaging for families in your timeline too.
What Else Is Important for a COVID-19 Vaccination Plan?
Two final thoughts:
Focus properly. Don’t engage in debates with anti-vaxxers. No matter what you say or do, you won’t get them comfortable. Focus instead on people who are sincerely concerned or afraid or those who don’t have enough of the right information to be comfortable, and work with them to address their concerns.
Don’t overpromise. Stick to the facts and don’t make promises or set timelines that can’t be met. Failure to deliver on promises will only seed distrust.