The largest vaccination campaign in history is underway, and because most organizations have stopped short of mandating a vaccine, corporate leaders have instead focused on driving participation among employees. Since the beginning of the year, we have led discussion groups with marketing and communications executives across the globe to understand how they are managing, or planning to manage, this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event. The good news is that these leaders have an enormous opportunity to shape their organization’s rollout strategy for employees and customers by doing what they do best: driving behavioral change among their target stakeholders.
However, the campaign is not without risk, as behavioral change is difficult to drive in the best of times, much less during a global pandemic. In this challenging environment, leaders have identified the following priorities to set their organization up for success in managing their vaccine communications strategy:
- Trust, trust, trust
- Build connections to reinforce shared goals
- Provide the “voice of the audience” to inform return-to-work plans
Trust, trust, trust
When developing and articulating a COVID-19 vaccine campaign, communicators should establish the organization as a trusted resource to provide accurate and updated information. In many ways, communications leaders are relying on the same channels to promote vaccinations that they have used to engage employees since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many are relying on medical or science experts within their organizations, if they have them, or directing employees to trusted sources of information like the CDC or other local governmental bodies to provide updated facts and combat misinformation. They are also equipping their CEO and other executives to actively raise awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated and directing employees to resources available to help them do so.
Build connections to reinforce shared goals
Corporate leaders should acknowledge the likelihood that employees, mirroring the general public, will have different perspectives about their willingness to get a vaccine; to that end, some organizations have deployed pulse check surveys to gather sentiment from their workforce. Whether or not employee surveys are used, communications leaders should consider employee motivations for potentially getting the vaccine when developing their messaging strategies. For example, one part of the employee population might respond to personal messaging that the vaccine will “let them see their grandparents,” while others might be more receptive to team-building messages or those that position vaccines as a way to return to normal sooner.
One executive shared that her team is using the motto that the “messenger is just as important as the message” to guide their vaccine communications strategy, and this can be a helpful reminder that different employees may be more receptive to messaging if it comes from people they trust. As such, employee storytelling can be an effective way to convince hesitant employees. Some organizations have asked frontline and other essential workers who have been vaccinated if they would share their experiences through videos or blog posts or as part of town hall interviews. Others have discussed sharing “success stories” of employees who were initially reluctant to get the vaccine, but ultimately decided to participate. Many leaders mentioned leveraging employee resource groups to provide special outreach to segments of the workforce.
Provide the “voice of the audience” to inform return-to-work plans
While the vaccine campaign is an integral part of employee communications this year, it is but one component of the larger return-to-work initiative that will play out for the foreseeable future. Communicators should address both in their messaging. While there are still many unknowns about the implications of a vaccine on the workplace environment – from the continuation of safety measures to the timeline of welcoming workers back to offices – communicators should gather employee sentiment to disseminate this feedback back to colleagues who are helping to craft their organization’s updated policies.