The (Lack of) Vaccination Content Strategy

In January I wrote about how a solid content strategy could really help improve vaccination numbers. There didn’t appear to be a vaccination content strategy, just as there hadn’t been a Covid content strategy.

At the time, I quoted the New York Times’ morning newsletter (aptly titled The Morning), which was voicing concerns over vaccine communication. Fast forward six months and not much has changed. I mean, a lot has changed – I and many other Americans are vaccinated. But not enough! And The Morning continues to point out how our public health officials are failing the American people.

How are public health officials failing Americans?

The FDA and other public health experts are still not speaking in plain language. They are not choosing their emphases. To quote David Leonhardt from the July 21 newsletter:

But I think the F.D.A.’s leaders have failed to understand how most Americans really think about the vaccines. It is different from the way that scientists and epidemiologists do. It’s less technical and based more on an accumulation of the publicly known facts.

It reminds me of another example of expert miscommunication, early in the pandemic. Back then, public health officials made highly technical statements about masks that many people interpreted as discouragement from wearing them. These statements ignored the many reasons to believe that masks could make a difference (like their longtime popularity in Asia to prevent the spread of viruses) and focused instead on the absence of studies showing that masks specifically prevented the spread of Covid.

Later, officials insisted that they were merely “following the data.” In truth, though, they were basing their advice on a narrow reading of the data — and not understanding how most people would interpret their comments.

David Leonhardt, The Morning

David points out two things that every content strategist knows:

  1. Being right and being persuasive are not the same thing. In other words, “highly technical statements” are not great at helping people understand value.
  2. There’s no such thing as just “following the data.” Data needs to be given context to turn from information into knowledge.

What would a vaccination content strategy look like?

Keep in mind, there is no morning standup for all public health officials the world over. Each team within each organization is making a daily choice. The NY Times, for example, chooses to explain things in their newsletter. The FDA continues to choose highly technical language.

But any individual vaccination content strategy can make a difference. Much like any other strategy, it should include:

  • A consistent voice, intended to connect to the core audience
  • A goal or objective, e.g. “to convince more people to get vaccinated” or “to facilitate better conversations and more education around FDA approvals”
  • Tactics to drive toward the goal
  • A governance plan to drive internal adoption
  • Clear KPIs and measurement check-ins (to shift tactics as necessary)

I can’t prove that the FDA and other public health orgs don’t have content strategies in place, but I know they aren’t the right strategies. That’s clear from the communications they put out. Perhaps they need better governance, or maybe they don’t have a consistent voice. Maybe they haven’t done their research, or need to look at their measurements and change their tactics.

Regardless, just as a kitchen without an oven can’t produce a good pie, a team without a content strategy can’t put out clear communications. Maybe, if we keep drawing attention to it, organizations will learn from past mistakes. With clear communication we can reach more people, connect with one another, and I truly believe we can be a healthier community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *