Official Communication Strategies and Effectiveness
Two articles discuss how government sources are the most used and trusted sources of information about COVID-19. One article specifically focuses on how young adults use government websites more than other age groups, and how the use of these websites results in more accurate knowledge about how to protect oneself from the virus. Another article focuses on how older adults are more likely to trust government sources than younger adults who typically trust private sources and social networks more than older adults. This is true across geographic regions with more White individuals trusting government sources than persons of color. Trust in government sources correlates with accurate knowledge about COVID-19 and complying with preventive recommendations such as social distancing whereas trust in other sources actually leads to less accurate knowledge and less willingness to comply. Researchers of both articles recommend that policy makers use multiple sources to disseminate accurate information to build trust and adherence among the public because trust in government sources may be increased by the promotion of government sources by non-governmental platforms like social media.
To capitalize on the trust Americans have with official information about COVID-19, official agencies should heed the advice in this article, which highlights strategies to employ, and to avoid, to encourage others to share their messages. When crafting messages about COVID-19, public agencies should use the following strategies to reach more people:
- Include media (both videos and photos)
- Include hashtags
- Include information about surveillance, hazard, impact, and/or severity
- Include information about protective action guidance and efficacy (both individual and collective)
Including these things leads to significantly greater message sharing, thus, reaching more people. Conversely, the following strategies should be avoided because they negatively affect people’s perceptions of messages and lead to less sharing of messages:
- Avoid directed messages (such as replies)
- Avoid including URLs
- Avoid quote tweets (such as attached commentary to previously constructed messages)
- Avoid exclamatory and/or interrogative sentences
Additionally, this article discusses how government can persuade individuals to adhere to recommended guidelines by disseminating accurate information and clearly communicating risk amid all of the misinformation and uncertainty circulating online and elsewhere. By providing appropriate context (e.g., explanations, implications, and consequence of the recommendations), persuasive efforts are highly effective. This study also reveals that people expect others to comply even if they choose not to, which may be because social media messages often focus on others’ adherence and not one’s own. The researchers provide four policy recommendations:
- Tell citizens precisely what they need to do for themselves
- Tell individuals what they should expect from others and what they need to do when dealing with other people
- Communicate through social media and similar media instead of relying solely on the press
- Provide information about COVID-19 to increase knowledge, calm uncertainties, and promote specific behaviors
Not all government communication, however, is trusted and effective. This article presents the results of a study that assessed a source’s effect on people’s responses to messages about COVID-19 preventive behaviors. President Donald Trump is the least effective source for this information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state health departments, local health departments, and even no source eliciting more positive responses to COVID-19 messages. This result holds true even among individuals who report trusting President Trump. Credibility of source messages must be considered for message efficacy.
Because political elites are known to influence public attitudes and behavior, not only can they take the advice just presented to help inform the public of accurate information, but they should also be aware of how their rhetoric may affect responses to COVID-19. In this article, researchers explain the polarization in cues sent to the public by U.S. House and Senate members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats discuss the crisis more frequently and emphasize threats to public health and American workers whereas Republicans focus on China and businesses. These divergent cues correspond with a partisan divide in the public’s reaction to COVID-19 and underscores the need for bipartisan consensus consistent with public health recommendations to effectively respond to the growing pandemic.