The role of Government communications during times of crisis

“While social media and messaging apps have made it easier than ever to get updated on the latest news about the virus, they can also be the main channels perpetuating the spread of fake news.” The World Health Organisation has warned against misinformation and the harm it can cause; yet people continue to spread fake news on the off chance that it might be true.


In times of crisis, official guidelines, rules, and news may rapidly evolve over time. But how can governments strengthen their communication channels?


Key issues addressed, but are not limited to:

  1. insufficient information

  2. mixed messaging

During times of crisis, it is crucial that communication between a government and the general public is clear and has a minimised degree for misinterpretation. Interestingly enough, this may not always be the case.

YouGov polled over 2,000 Australians in early April to find out the level of understanding of the Government restrictions. Their 2020 findings on 'Understanding restrictions in Australia', reveal that 40% of participants do not understand what they can and cannot do. 39% do not know where they can and cannot go.


With a considerable number of participants 30-40%, not entirely understanding government restrictions leaves them in uncertainty and confusion. It begs the question, how can communication be made clearer and messages more widespread?


It is key that the public do not mistake having too much information for being better than having a lack of information. MullenLowe Group note that “While social media and messaging apps have made it easier than ever to get updated on the latest news about the virus, they can also be the main channels perpetuating the spread of fake news.” The World Health Organisation has warned against misinformation and the harm it can cause; yet people continue to spread fake news on the off chance that it might be true. To them, too much information is better than a lack of information.


Similarly, mixed messaging is another theme in the communication between governments and citizens. Jill Rutter, programme director at the Institute for Government, has noted that the British Government is guilty of mixed messaging. "People want an excuse to ignore unwelcome messages. So telling the population not to go to restaurants or cafes, but refusing to shut them down, allows people to rationalise that the government does not really mean what it is saying: it applies to others, not me” (Institute for Government,2020).


Whereas in the US, mixed messaging from the CDC and the White House makes it hard for people to know what to trust. Dr Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation says “If you have different messengers giving different messages, this is a recipe for confusion, and could potentially undermine the effectiveness of the response.”


Research shows there is room for improvement on educating the general public on what they can and cannot do. Undermining the effectiveness of response can be reduced by keeping the dialogue open and communicating clear messages on “dos and don'ts” as well as hygiene standards. But what is the best way to go about doing so? Video as a communication tool.


In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article on “how to avoid virtual miscommunication”, Ferrazzi states to “remember that the medium is (partly) the message. By having a lack of context, the simplest messages can become misconstrued. Therefore the value in video lies in the fact that it gives the topic context and in a relatively short time, opposed to making someone read lengthy text. Technology presents an opportunity to connect quickly and easily across time and space, but communication about issues that are complex, sensitive in nature and/or require immediate feedback may best be communicated through channels that are more personal.


A 2018 Forbes study on how “Relevant Video Content Drives More Engagement And Revenue” reveals that people spend 2.6 times more time on websites with video than those without. An example of a US governmental agency, applying video to their communications, HIV.gov states that “using video as part of a comprehensive communication strategy can increase the engagement and effectiveness of the health messages.” (Digital.gov,US Federal Gov) And that in their experience, videos are effective tools for communicating HIV prevention and treatment information. This approach could be adopted by other health agencies alike.


Video as a medium for communication can be vastly effective. A 2015 article from Vanderbilt University stated “several meta-analyses have shown that technology can enhance learning (Schmid et al., 2014), and multiple studies have shown that video, specifically, can be a highly effective educational tool (Kay, 2012).


While developing video as a means for communication, why not leverage on a value exchange strategy and educate viewers of a specific message and give them something in return for their time. Marketing technology platform Vieworks, has incorporated the value exchange model into their solution. They offer a video overlay solution which gives viewers or the public a “Video Perk in return for their attention and engagement.


By viewers actively engaging with the message of a video, this further reduces the degree of misinterpretation and miscommunication. It also keeps their attention for longer.


Hubspot said that consumers tend to watch 1.5 hours of online video per day. As consumers gain better access to contextual video content, it will drive more value for creators and publishers. What is also interesting in this exchange is the role of tracking data to understand the users journey and gain their interaction through a dialogue, whether it be questions or feedback. It is interesting to see how technology furthers its purpose and use through trialling times.

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