Public health information is now available in an instant to citizens, with both positive and negative consequences. This is an emerging challenge for public health leaders who must break through the noise of an ever-expanding digital landscape to educate and improve American lives.
The importance of strategic communications – especially in the fight against misinformation – was a major topic of conversation at the Annual Public Health Association’s Nation Conference in Denver, Colo., held in October 2021.
Misinformation is not just hurtful – it is lethal,” said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Chief Medical Officer for Prevention at the American Heart Association. The medical and public health community is being put to the test like never before. Digital misinformation shifts focus away from research and care. And Sanchez is concerned that public health leaders don’t have the tools and experience needed to combat unreliable information.
How Public Health Can Combat Misinformation
Public health messaging is largely centered around three tenets. Each requires focus and strategy:
Focus on the message: Words matter. Public health messaging must be crafted in such a way that the message is relatable to each segment of target audience.
The words, phrases, and emotions which we all use to communicate daily reflect how we are interpreting and navigating the world around us. Digital content is often at risk of miss-the-mark if developed in a bubble.
Before impactful content can be created, research must be conducted to better understand the audience: how they speak, interact, engage, and navigate online. Often the message needs to be culturally and/or socially tailored to appeal to a user’s use of language and values – a topic that NIH has been conducting extensive research over.
Focus on the message channel: The vehicle in which a message is delivered is critical. This must be taken into consideration when attempting to communicate with each group and sub-group.
The digital space will continue to expand. Conversations are happening across a variety of legacy and new applications every moment, every day. At the same time, not all communities have the same digital literacy or equitable access to the same digital tools. Public health and industry leaders must work together to build strategies that mitigate such risks to better reach all audiences with message campaigns.
Follow-through: It takes very little for the public to lose trust or faith in the public health community. Operations and logistics must be ironed out to deliver on message promises.
Trust in public health is built on consistency and transparency. The commitments we make online must be able to be honored in “real-life” as communities receive messages from our leaders. Stakeholders in the public health community such as Industry, the research community, the medical community, and others must come together to build a central message. In doing so, our leaders can cultivate inter-discipline allyship, increase the transparency of what trends are being recognized across these groups, and build skillsets and capacity across the public health community.
Our nation’s public health challenges are new, but they are not unbeatable. Let’s work to empower government agencies with expanded digital communications tools and strategies. It’s what our nation needs today to build a better tomorrow.
Written by: Emilie Scantlebury | Director of Corporate Portfolio Development