B.C. health officials hope coronavirus message goes viral with TikTok campaign

The Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) authority is turning to popular social media platform TikTok in an effort to get its coronavirus messaging to younger adults.

It comes after weeks of data showed the province’s recent surge in cases was linked to a younger demographic, and criticism that the province’s messaging wasn’t getting through.

Read more: Seth Rogen adds voice to B.C. coronavirus youth push, but are celebrities effective?

Back at the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 cases among 20-39 year olds made up about 21 per cent of cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. That age group now represents more than half of new cases, according to VCH.

2:01 Young COVID-19 survivor shares cautionary tale

Young COVID-19 survivor shares cautionary tale

TikTok is a short video platform where users upload content reflecting popular trends in music, memes or dance moves.

“What we’re doing is trying to follow some of those trending themes to share some of the information that’s been approved by our medical health officers,” said VCH communications leader Deana Lancaster.

VCH has uploaded nine videos so far, with messages ranging from how to safely dine at a restaurant, how to turn down an invitation to a party to tips on social distancing.

Read more: Why one expert says B.C. fumbled its coronavirus message to young people

The videos star VCH digital team member Danika Thibault, who is also a stand-up comedian, and tend to take a humorous angle.

One video listing COVID-19 symptoms has been viewed nearly 30,000 times.

“We are being quite intentional in the audience we’re trying to reach,” said Lancaster.

“Our team is quite youthful, and so most of the people participating (in the video production) are really in the demographic we’re trying to reach … That’s really what makes it fun and hopefully will get us trending.”

The initiative has earned a positive review form Sajjad Fazel, a public health researcher at the University of Calgary.

Fazel said health officials are correct to believe that traditional messaging such as billboards and brochures won’t necessarily penetrate to younger adults.

Read more: Here’s what B.C. youth have to say about the province’s coronavirus spike

“We have to get with the times,” he said.

“We, as public health professionals, need to package a public health message in a way that’s interesting, in a way that’s funny, in a way that people like to share and in a way that would make it go viral.”

He pointed to a video from the Ohio Department of Health that used ping pong balls and mouse traps to visualize the effectiveness of social distancing.

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That video has been viewed more than 1.1 million times since it was released in April, and was widely lauded for its simple, effective message.

With the amount of misinformation about the virus circulating on social media, Fazel said it is also crucial for health officials to flood every available platform with accurate messaging.

VCH is trying to put out at least two of the TikTok videos per week.

It has also launched a larger, youth-focused campaign that includes Instagram and Facebook health guides, along with posters.

Lancaster acknowledged that many younger people may not follow government social media accounts, and said VCH is exploring promoting the videos as ads and was ensuring the videos use trending hashtags to make them easier to find.

2:08 “It’s not worth it”: COVID-19 survivor warns young partiers to stop ignoring rules

“It’s not worth it”: COVID-19 survivor warns young partiers to stop ignoring rules

Since the campaign launched, several other B.C. health authorities have reached out to ask questions about how they can set up their own TikTok accounts she said.

VCH is also hopeful that young people will take up the challenge of creating their own COVID-19 content.

Read more: Coronavirus: What one of the youngest patients in a B.C. ICU wants you to know

“We are open to anything,” Lancaster said.

“We would love it if TikTok users, millennials and Gen. Zs, if they would make some of these COVID safety videos and share them. The more help we can have to get this more information out there the better we will all be.”

You can find Vancouver Coastal Health’s TikTok videos here. 

With files from Srushti Gangdev

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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