Effective Communication Management in a Public Health Crisis: Lessons Learned about COVID-19 Pandemic through the Lens of Health Communication Executives

Taylor Voges (PhD candidate), Yan Jin, LaShonda Eaddy (PhD alum), Shelley Spector. (forthcoming). “Effective Communication Management in a Public Health Crisis: Lessons Learned about COVID-19 Pandemic through the Lens of Health Communication Executives.” Journal of Communication Management.

Abstract: This study aims to provide insights on the COVID-19 pandemic communication from the lessons learned by health communication executives—how they perceived the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend preparing for communication management of future public health crisis. A number of top health communication executives in the United States were interviewed, for their unique perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. The contingency theory of strategic conflict management is used for qualitative deductive analysis, rendering several segmentations of key factors that drove organizational communication management decision making during the pandemic: organization characteristics, relationship characteristics, general external climate, external publics, and the issue under question. Health communication executives heavily relied on their past health communication experiences, which led to nuanced understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Theoretically, the contingency theory is furthered via an implied theoretical linkage between the construct of general external climate and the construct of external publics. Practically, the health communication executives urged future practitioners to constantly assess risks, hire and use diverse and representative decision-makers; set a communication protocol; and keep the communication in perspective.

Telling the Tale: The Role of Narratives in Helping People Respond to Crises.

Brooke Liu, Lucinda Austin, Yen-I Lee, Yan Jin, and Seoyeon Kim. (Forthcoming). “Telling the Tale: The Role of Narratives in Helping People Respond to Crises.” Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Abstract: During public health crises like infectious disease outbreaks, news media and governments are responsible for informing the public about how to protect themselves. A large body of health communication research finds that persuasive narratives motivate protective behaviors, such as intentions to vaccinate. In their seminal book on crisis narratives, Seeger and Sellnow (2016) theorized five narrative types: blame, renewal, victim, hero, and memorial. In this study, we tested how the public responds to crisis narratives about a hypothetical infectious disease crisis, modelled after narratives emerging from the 2014-2016 Ebola pandemic, through an online experiment with a U.S. adult sample (N = 1,050). Findings showcase which crisis narratives positively affect public protective behaviors as well as emotional responses, assessments of information credibility, and attributions of crisis responsibility.

True or False: How Parents Decide to Seek, Vet, or Share Infectious Disease Outbreak Information

Accepted for presentation at the International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference (ICRCC), March 9-11, 2020, Orlando, FL.

Abstract: Numerous studies have explored how publics seek and share crisis information, but none has examined whether publics verify the accuracy of crisis and risk information before sharing the information or seeking additional information. These considerations are especially important during potential health risks and public health crises.  The present study surveys parents of children ages 10 or younger to explore how they vet information regarding a potential measles outbreak and other potential infectious disease outbreaks.

Seeking Formula for Misinformation Treatment in Public Health Crises: The Effects of Corrective Information Type and Source

Abstract: An increasing lack of information truthfulness has become one fundamental challenge to communications. Insights into how to debunk this type of misinformation can especially be crucial for public health crises. To identify corrective information strategy that increases awareness and triggers actions during infectious disease outbreaks, an online experiment (N=700) was conducted, using a U.S. sample. After initial misinformation exposure, participants’ exposure to corrective information type (simple rebuttal vs. factual elaboration) and source (government health agency vs. news media vs. social peer) was varied, including a control group without corrective information. Results show that, if corrective information is present rather than absent, incorrect beliefs based on misinformation are debunked and the exposure to factual elaboration, compared to simple rebuttal, stimulates intentions to take protective actions. Moreover, government agency and news media sources are found to be more successful in improving belief accuracy compared to social peers. The observed mediating role of crisis emotions reveals the mechanism underlying the effects of corrective information. The findings contribute to misinformation research by providing a formula for correcting the increasing spread of misinformation in times of crisis.