Public health messaging for the 21st Century: ‘A leading example of what we don’t know how to do yet relates to covid-19’

June 6, 2020 — The Washington Post: “[An] unusual nonpartisan coalition of experts…are repurposing new technologies to keep the most vulnerable populations safe by providing them with clear guidance [on COVID-19]. They are drawing on behavioral science, social media savvy, lessons from political campaigns and their own connections to persuade influencers…to spread their messages [surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic]. And they are acting against the backdrop of a rising communications crisis in public health…Public health campaigns have historically relied on broad-based communications…[the new project] aims instead to meet people where they are, by determining which counties are most vulnerable and then enlisting celebrity messengers…along with trusted local leaders…to spread the word…The need for localized messaging has become even clearer…as states relax restrictions, often resulting in different regulations…on opposite sides of a county or state border…Those competing forces fly in the face of what experts on public health messaging say is the key to success — to sustain advice and back it, when possible, with policy even when it is controversial and pits the needs of the community against personal behaviors…But many scholars agree that public health officials have been slow to recognize the rapid shifts to hyperlocal messaging and to platforms that attract younger generations. ‘A leading example of what we don’t know how to do yet relates to covid-19,’ said Jay A. Winsten, director of the Frank Stanton Center for Health Communication at the Harvard [T.H. Chan] School of Public Health…’There isn’t a lot of smart thinking yet in terms of design of messaging so that it reflects where young people are coming from and whether or not there are alternative messaging concepts that might resonate in a stronger way,’ he said. Winsten suspended a course…because the cases were derived from the pre-social-media world. ‘No one has really fixed the model of health communications for the 21st century,’ he said.”
Read The Washington Post article by Frances Stead Sellers