How to Use Messaging to Spread Vaccine Confidence

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2 mins read

As we battle the Disinfo variant of the virus, it’s critical to recall some persuasion basics plus empirical results on vaccination refusal and hesitancy.

Social proof is arguably the most effective tool we’ve got. People do the thing they believe their kind of people do and avoid the thing their in-group eschews. Talking about vaccination refusal or hesitancy has been proven to increase it.

Instead, we must tout how hesitant groups have gotten shots by the millions, and every day more go for theirs. Tell people that others are doing what you want them to do.

Fear-based messaging (like “Covid will kill you”) has been shown to backfire, especially among politically motivated refusers. Fear isn’t rational and anti-vax liars trade in fear (of the vaccine). In a battle of fear vs. fear, the most familiar, repeated and trusted signal wins.

Further, for these folks we must reckon with the massive challenge of getting them to admit (if only to themselves) that they were wrong. Changing your mind is viewed as a weakness among these folks. Messaging has to provide an escape valve for coming to a new conclusion.

Thus, the most likely effective message (because folks deep in conspiracy are virtually unreachable) will emphasize independence; things like making your own way, doing things on your own timeline and taking control of your own health.

For the vaccine hesitant, positive messaging — a shot at hope, a shot at hoops with pals, a shot at hugging your grandma — is needed. That’s what quells fears and understandable distrust of a health system that discriminates by race, income, background and ability.

This post originally appeared as a Twitter thread.


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Founder and Principal of ASO Communications, Anat Shenker-Osorio examines why certain messages falter where others deliver. She’s led research into how to persuade and mobilize on issues ranging from tackling right-wing race baiting to promoting clean energy and from honoring the rights of immigrants to reforming criminal justice. Anat’s delivered her findings at venues such as the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus, Centre for Australian Progress, Irish Migrant Centre, Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, the European Commission and LUSH International. Her writing and research is profiled in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Boston Globe, Salon, The Guardian and Grist, among others. She is the author of Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense About the Economy. Learn more: ASOCommunications.com

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