COVID COMMS #21: People are sharing official messages less, so what can you do?

Fewer people are sharing COVID-19 safety messages and that’s a problem for public sector people.

According to Ofcom research, 25 per cent of people were sharing key messages at the start of the pandemic but 12 weeks in that figure has halved.

Anecdotally, there’s a range of reasons for this. Message fatigue. Lockdown fatigue. Falling trust in politicians. Debate over the messaging. Confusion. But why is less important than the ‘what next?’

That’s a real problem if you are a public sector communicator charged with reaching people.

If this whole episode has proved anything its that the communicator who churns the same stuff out without thinking has had their day.

So what to do?

Back when I was on newspapers in the late 90s the answer to falling circulation was to do more of the same. Only much more. That was the wrong answer then and its the wrong answer now.

Here’s five things you can do to better get the message through to people.

Educate the client. The landscape is changing rapidly. What worked five weeks ago let alone five years ago are two different things. Pay extra double close attention to research like Ofcom’s and educate the senior leadership team as to why you are doing what you do. It doesn’t have to be extensive. Just something that spells out why you are working how you’re working. This is so very important.

Create your own content. Data has suggested that people are getting fed-up with politicians and the Government. So, try making your own assets with local messages that mirror the national picture.

Take your own content to where the audience is. I know, I know. I’ve been banging on about this for a long time. Create content for Dudley and knock on the doors of Dudley Facebook groups. People are more likely to trust messages from people who look and sound like them.

Nurses and Doctors to the front. Trust in the NHS remains sky high. Nine out of 10 people trust medics. So have local medics fronting your content.

Advertise. If people won’t naturally share your content put some money behind it. That way it’ll reach people.

Work with your local news brand. Newsrooms are getting thinner at the time when people trust local news more. So, talk to them about what would work with them. A video? A Facebook Live with a public health officer? Have that conversation. It’s about reaching people.

Remember that your staff are your biggest assets. Remember that? So, use them. Have a network of people who are prepared to share your public health message. Connect them via email or Workplace or Yammer or whatever the best way to connect them is.

Pay really close attention to your own insights and data. What’s working locally? As people’s experiences change and alter your own insights will be a useful barometer over what is working. It’s less ‘is it visible?’ and far more ‘has anyone seen it and acted upon it?’ Box ticking presenteeism in your comms is of no use to anyone. Least of all now.

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