As their team and needs grew during the pandemic, Jeffers and Lane turned to two Granicus tools to help spread messages. In 2018, they used the govAccess web creation tool to power their website redesign. And weeks before the pandemic arrived in Pierce County, they had subscribed to the govDelivery messaging platform.
“govDelivery in particular was such an essential connection point during COVID and has remained so since,” Jeffers said. “It’s a vital platform for our overall strategies to use plain language, make sure we’re relevant, and reach people where they are.”
Data from govDelivery helped the team gather feedback and strategize on how best to reach different groups in the community. With audience segmentation tools, they adjusted messaging to target audiences as new data became available, new groups were created, and people’s opinions and reasons for holding them changed.
The digital evolution created with this data, Lane said, was reflected immediately in both website and email messaging.
“Our agency also stood up a large community engagement team through the pandemic so we could hear directly where the barriers were, what were the best messages, and the best ways to think about how to reach different groups of people,” he said. “We included lots of people in conversations. It was really part of an agencywide effort to have these conversations with the community and use what we learned to continue the conversation from our end, and make sure that, at the end of the day, our reliable information reached people in a way that was meaningful to them.”
As vaccines became available, the Health Department worked with Pierce County Department of Emergency Management to quickly stand up mass vaccination sites. Community-specific messaging and plain language in email, social media, and the website were critical. The agency worked closely with community organizations to hold invitation-only events for groups suffering most from COVID-19 and created new systems to build public trust and give everyone a fair chance at an appointment.
During that time, govDelivery subscriber capture overlays helped grow blog subscriptions from about 200 people to nearly 50,000 people, as residents signed up to receive the latest public health information. That gave the Health Department a direct messaging pipeline to a large chunk of its population.
As vaccine supply began to outweigh demand, Jeffers said the focus shifted to addressing barriers to vaccination. The agency moved beyond standard engagement and communication strategies.
Using the website, blog, social media, and govDelivery lists, the Health Department launched spaces to talk through issues in a no-pressure zone. It staged them at food banks, parks, and community centers, staffed with people who lived in the area.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities felt mistrust toward a medical system that had performed grave injustices in the past on marginalized and vulnerable people. The agency worked closely with groups like the Tahoma Indian Center, the Salishan Association, the Asia Pacific Cultural Center and the Korean Women’s Association to make sure residents had easy access to vaccines and felt welcome when they had questions.
Rural areas were also home to many with low trust in government and healthcare, Jeffers said. The Health Department partnered with local people and groups who helped build trust and answer questions. The group of trusted messengers included faith and business leaders, medical professionals, organizers and influencers who were well known in their communities.
To aid those conversations, the agency created data-driven materials for the website including blogs, FAQs, a video series, presentations, and infographics that partners could use to tackle misinformation and improve trust.
The audience segmentation tools in govDelivery helped customize messaging to audiences.
“The fact that we have customized lists allows us to have very specialized topical groups,” Jeffers said. “That helped our internal staff and community engage with their unique communities both during the pandemic and now on a variety of topics.”
Targeted segmentation opened another avenue as well.
“A big part of our strategy now is to reach people through targeted email lists,” Lane said. “As we can be more dependent on that, we become less dependent on social media, and some of the problems that social media carries with it. It’s changed the way we reach people, the way we think about reaching people, and the kinds of messaging we use.”
Both Jeffers and Lane said partnerships will continue to be central to the Health Department’s engagement strategy.
“It was important during the pandemic, and it’s very important now,” said Lane. “People are more divided. People had so many strong feelings about all the things that happened during the pandemic, and that’s something we continue to address and improve.”