Supported by:
Brown School of Public Health   The Rockefeller Foundation

10 best practices

Whether you’re a campaigning veteran or new to health communication, the following best practices will help you create effective and meaningful campaigns and messages about COVID-19 testing.


Consider your high-priority audiences
Identify the groups of people who will benefit from your campaign messages and think about their COVID-19 experiences. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they in a place in their lives where they can hear campaign messages above the background noise?

  • Will they trust the information?

  • Will they see the campaign “asks” as simple and accomplishable?

  • Will they be motivated to take action?

  • If not, what organizations or people can help me deliver this message more effectively?

If you can, invite members of your target audiences (or partners who work with them) to weigh in on your campaign’s messages. Work to tailor your messages to address the wants and needs of your highest priority audiences.


Communicate simply and often
It’s crucial that health departments and other response groups continue to communicate frequently to the public and the media—to share news and updates, but also to keep key COVID-19 messages fresh and top-of-mind.

Simplicity is a must when communicating about COVID-19. Use plain language best practices, avoid scientific or bureaucratic jargon and acronyms, and pay attention to the reading level of your message and materials. According to the Center for Plain Language, the average American reads at the level of a 7th or 8th grader. If you must use scientific or technical terms, always provide a simplified explanation.

For more on plain language writing, visit plainlanguage.gov or centerforplainlanguage.org 

To test the reading level of your materials, you can use this readability analyzer.


Connect and collaborate with partners
Collaboration among public health departments, state and local governments, and community-based organizations is a powerful tool when creating outreach campaigns. You may already have a shortlist of key partners in your area. If not, now is a great time to make connections and ask for help tailoring your campaign to various audiences.

Connect and collaborate with partners as early as possible and engage them at every step. Ask how you can help promote their respective communication efforts and initiatives. Because COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and American Indian Alaskan Native people, make it a priority to connect with and engage partners and representatives from these communities. The more partners you have to amplify your campaign messages, the broader the reach and greater the impact you will have in the long run.


Learn (and borrow) from others
A silver lining of the global COVID-19 pandemic is that all eyes are on this crisis and all energy is focused on stopping the spread. To that end, nonprofits, academia, federal agencies, and state and local public health departments have already created a wealth of COVID-19 research insights, outreach tools, educational materials, and campaign assets.

Start by searching for and reviewing existing materials and look for relevant insights applicable to your own campaign, audiences, and goals. Some organization’s materials are free to use and download (like ours and those from the CDC). When in doubt, ask for permission to use assets or verbiage. A good place to start is our free asset library.


Listen and respond on social media
Comments on social media are rich in insights about how the public is feeling about a given topic or campaign. If you’re using social media to communicate about COVID-19, make a habit of reviewing any social media comments—first to ensure they don’t violate your comment policy or have profanity or hate speech—but second to take the temperature of the audience. You can use this “listening” strategy to try out different topics or creative designs and assess responses.

If time permits, answer questions and react and respond to comments—those that are relevant and productive. These actions show your audience that you are listening and care about their opinions. It also helps you retain existing followers and fans while gaining new ones.


Be transparent and own your mistakes
Transparency in crisis communication means that you say and write what you do know and what you do not know. It also means owning and correcting your mistakes and highlighting changes you’ve made to publicly available information and guidance. This is especially important when answering media questions, responding to social media comments, and updating online content.


Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
A successful campaign will reach its audience in more than just one way. Think of the rule of 7: people need to hear or see a message seven times before they consider taking action on it. Conveying your message through multiple platforms will instill it in the minds of your target audience and help to achieve the behavior change you are looking for.


Serve bites, snacks, and meals
Knowing people vary in how invested and motivated they are in taking COVID-19 prevention steps like getting tested, break your campaign content into what we call “bites,” “snacks” and “meals.”

Bites are simple and memorable messages that prompt action. Think of a colorful Instagram graphic promoting free testing in your neighborhood.

Meals are long-form content, providing background information and data, and detailing the rationale for a given preventive step. Think of a 3-minute YouTube video explaining how testing works, why it matters, and encouraging people to sign up.

Snacks provide something in between. They can also be a series of bites with an overarching message.

Creating campaign materials of varying depths and detail ensures your campaign is reaching and speaking to various audiences in formats they can easily “digest.”


Show and tell
When creating messages intended to motivate or prompt a certain action, such as getting a COVID test, try to strike a balance between showing your audience what to do and telling them. It is important not to overload your viewers with text, but also crucial that they receive the information they need. Supplement the essential textual facts and instructions with visuals that demonstrate the behavior you are promoting as well as the benefits of its outcome.


Humanize the experts
So many members of our community have been working hard behind the scenes as front line workers, public health experts, lab technicians, and testing teams, to help battle the virus. Humanizing these COVID-19 experts is an important message to communicate to the public. Framing them as our neighbors or as regular people fosters empathy for frontline workers and public health experts, and establishes a sense of assurance and familiarity for those considering getting a test.

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