During a captivating Digital.gov event hosted by the Multilingual Community of Practice, participants heard from experts at three federal agencies. Panelists shared how they’ve used social media to reach Hispanic audiences during emergencies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Fedora Braverman, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Laura Godfrey, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), moderated the discussion. This article highlights the main insights provided by the panelists: Javier Chavez, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), Georgeta Dragoiu, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Claire Loxsom, GSA.
Which social media platforms have you found the most useful during the COVID-19 pandemic for Hispanic audiences?
Panelist Javier Chavez noted the popularity of Twitter for Hispanic audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Chavez asserts, “With Twitter, we have had the opportunity to experiment with different ideas and approaches, and it is kind of our lab platform. Whatever works on Twitter, we usually try to replicate in our other social media platforms. Sometimes, duplicative efforts are successful, sometimes not, and we tailor the language.” He also shared that especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, his team has tried to prioritize positive messages that help users make healthy lifestyle decisions, instead of showcasing diseases and conditions.
Claire Loxsom, the acting team lead of the USAGov outreach team, which manages English and Spanish social media channels and public engagement campaigns, agreed that Twitter is a strong channel for USAGov en Español’s Hispanic audience. Yet she has been surprised by the success of Facebook and Instagram, as well. She explained that when posting Facebook and Instagram stories, her team has “created both English and Spanish versions of educational material like very public-facing stories with tips, navigating to different government resources. And [we] have found that those types of bilingual posts are really engaged upon.”
The final panelist, Georgeta Dragoiu, works on the “We Can Do This” campaign, a nationwide public educational initiative by the White House and HHS. The goal of this campaign is to provide the public with health information around COVID-19 and vaccines. Their target audience is people who are still on the fence about getting the vaccine, who still need some motivation. They are not focusing on the extremes: folks who are definitely onboard with the vaccine, nor those who are against it.
To reach this unique audience, Ms.Dragoiu’s team advertises on almost all social media platforms. They have also analyzed where people are having conversations about vaccines. Besides in-person, how is the Hispanic community interacting about this topic? It turns out that WhatsApp is one of the best ways to communicate with this particular audience. The CDC, together with Facebook, developed a WhatsApp bot that answers the most frequently asked questions about vaccines. Using WhatsApp, it feels like a natural conversation, since folks are already using it to text and share information. This bot is driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and features videos of trusted Spanish-speaking doctors.
Was there a specific social media strategy that you’ve used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? Did you already have something in place from your agency’s response to previous emergencies?
Claire Loxsom shared that the USAGov outreach team is designated as an official channel for communication in emergencies. She explained, “This puts us in a really unique situation… during COVID-19, during natural disasters, all these different emergencies that we have been up against over the last year and a half, have made their way into both [our] regular strategy and emergency strategy.” Her team’s emergency strategy is a mix of regular communications operations, to continue energizing regular channels, and sharing official information from agency experts with the public.
All three panelists emphasized how much their work benefits from their relationship with other agencies. Even if some teams don’t have the ability to use certain channels, they can still share and cross-post content from other agencies’ channels. Inter-agency collaboration is key when it comes to emergencies.
Another takeaway from all panelists was how important social listening is for emergency response tactics. Directly connecting with the audience allows agencies to get a glimpse into what is really going on. This approach may also address the public’s fears and skepticism, which can help bridge the gap of trust with the government during an emergency.
During the forum, Georgeta Dragoiu also discussed a video advertisement from HHS that was distributed in both English and Spanish.
This ad, entitled “Jack of All Trades,” emphasizes that getting the COVID-19 vaccination is one of the most important “roles” that people have played during the pandemic. The ad touches on an idea that HHS saw in their national research: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans had to take on different roles in the family. This ad thanks folks for doing this and encourages them to take the extra step. It showcases new family roles, whether they are parents who have become at-home teachers, or siblings who have become caregivers. The ad was created with the Hispanic audience in mind, knowing the importance of family in that community.
Final thoughts from Claire Loxsom:
Through USAGov’s multifaceted approach, Ms. Loxsom’s team has learned how important it is to try new things when reaching different audiences. The Hispanic population is growing, and platform preferences change all the time. She also suggested following other official channels, such as MedlinePlus en Español and HHS, to learn what they are doing when it comes to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic or campaigns requiring quick turnarounds. These tools and methods are made to share with multilingual and social media practitioners throughout the government. If folks like what they see from a specific agency or campaign, but do not have the ability to execute it themselves, they should reach out to experts in those agencies for more advice.