The COVID-19 communication challenge has evolved – and continues to do so.
Last year, our research showed governments were cutting through. At a state and federal level, the Togetherness Index indicated they were effective at generally keeping the country informed about issues of relevance to the community. Almost 60% said they were effective at keeping us informed.
With COVID-19 in mind, this was both expected and welcome. It suggested people were listening. And the research indicated a high degree of likelihood that people would act on what they heard.
Fast forward to today. The latest Togetherness Index research reveals a different picture.
Trust in federal government communication has fallen to 42% from 54%. We are also less likely to act on what we hear from our governments.
Just a third of people say federal government communication is influential on their behaviour. Only two-fifths of people give this communication much thought.
These results raise concerns that Australia has tuned out, and that communication may be struggling to have the impact required.
The research was undertaken before the latest outbreaks in NSW and VIC and, at the time, many may have believed COVID-19 to be largely tamed, making them relaxed and tuned out. The impact of issues with the COVID-19 vaccine roll out may also have had an impact. Complacency was a problem.
This was another moment in our pandemic experience with all stakeholders learning how to communicate in this context. There is now a new challenge.
A snapshot today is likely to reveal an interesting picture. And it presents an interesting challenge for the future. Today, with outbreaks across Australia, communication must wrestle with different challenges. The nation is fatigued, there is lots of noise and there are many narratives. As the number of people vaccinated reaches a significant number, the challenge in the future will be asking people to get tested and practise COVID safe behaviours with large parts of the population vaccinated. With fewer people listening and the potential for complacency to grow again, it becomes critical to use strategic communication to help navigate the problem.
Currently, communication is focused on getting people vaccinated and compliance with restrictions. In the medium term, it should look to put equal weighting on vaccination and COVID safe behaviours like hand washing, mask wearing and getting tested as we exit lockdowns.
In the longer term, it will be important to ensure vaccination is one part of the COVID safe behaviour jigsaw, and to be clear about how we will live with the virus. When this is will depend on our context, which is unclear today. How it happens is a key communication challenge as we learn to get on with life.