Effective public health communication strategies are essential to educate public audiences about the important health issues facing their community. Whether it is an emergency, such as we have seen with COVID-19, Zika, and countless other outbreaks, or information about chronic disease risk, effective communication is the first step towards prevention. As Dr. Barbara Reynolds, former Crisis and Risk Communication Advisor at the CDC, aptly stated, “The right message at the right time from the right person can save lives.”
Knowing your audience is the first step towards effective communication. Medical terms are often complex and can easily become overwhelming for general audiences. When you know your audience, you can communicate with them on their level. Trust is an essential component to motivate the public to make lifestyle changes. A complicated message that is hard to understand will not inspire trust. If you clearly state in simple terms how people can keep themselves and others safe, the more likely your audience is to comply.
- Target the heart and head
The goal of public health is to improve outcomes for populations, and in our busy world, it can be difficult at times to get people to think beyond our personal health. If your message makes people empathize with others and comprehend the risk to themselves, you are more likely to gain their attention and have them complete your call to action.
- Inclusivity is key
Public health campaigns need to reach a wide audience, one that encompasses many diverse backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and needs. Feedback from local communities can be especially helpful in crafting effective campaigns. Reaching out to community leaders can help you gain insight into the needs in their area and learn how to improve on past messages.
Large campaigns should also put communication strategies in place for different reading levels and potential language barriers. Artwork can do more than just make a campaign eye-catching, it can also help communicate your message to people with various reading levels and those who speak different languages. Using recognizable images can also help ensure your message is understood.
- Utilize different delivery methods for different audiences
In today’s digital age, we do not lack communication outlets. To reach your intended audience though, it’s vital to understand where they are and what outlets they are exposed to. If you are trying to reach a younger audience, social media may be a great tool to spread your message, but older audiences are less likely to use these platforms. When trying to reach a broad audience, one communication method may not be enough. You may need to use a combination of multiple channels, such as social media, print ads in local newspapers, and mailed flyers.