When you spend your life in a 16th century royal castle like us, you get a historical perspective.
One recent thought revolved around if things might have looked different if our current technology and means of communication was available during the Spanish flu, the deadliest pandemic to date, or the mediaeval Black Death? What if back then?
The Middle Ages
In mediaeval Italy they had no notion of viruses or bacteria, but they understood enough about the Black Death to implement some of the world’s first anti-contagion measures.
Starting in 1348, soon after the plague arrived in cities like Venice and Milan, city officials put emergency public health measures in place. They knew that you had to be very careful with goods that are being traded, because the disease could be spread on objects and surfaces, and that you tried your best to limit person-to-person contact. A foreshadow of today’s best practices of social distancing and disinfecting surfaces.
Word of mouth was without a doubt the most effective way to communicate these guidelines. However, it was slow and prone to dilution of the message. Distributing written information was out of the question since very few could read and write. Also for the mere reason that mass printing was not invented.
Fast forward to 1918. Now technology offers the means to spread information faster. In New York for instance, a female dominated workforce of highly important telephone operators, made sure that people could stay connected across the state and the nation. Important information could be distributed over large distances.
The Social Media age
In the context of the most recent pandemic, we now have the means to spread information quickly, but the old ghost of information dilution pops up again. False information was as prevalent as correct information on social media.
In Bolivia the Red Cross developed different actions against disinformation, and to reach out with clear messages to the population. The guidelines were presented in an educational way. Videos were created where volunteers provided advice on different topics such as new ways to greet, how to use masks and how to wash hands.
This approach also included a series of sessions broadcasted on Facebook Live, which was very well received. A stellar example of how to use our current technology in the right way.
Communication that saves lives
As we already concluded, the recent pandemic had several backlashes due to poor communication and false information. However, in most public health organisations and other bodies in the science sector the purpose has been to save lives, all though with different approaches. Either to stay at home (UK/NHS) or the Swedish way where the ruling philosophy was to keep things up and running.
Information campaigns during health crises aim to drive coordinated action in society as a whole. And to provide emotional support.
The last point is important. Information is much more likely to be received if we add a relevant emotional signal. This is a challenge the life science sector has long struggled with. How do you communicate complex information accurately and efficiently, but still manage to connect with people? We have seen numerous examples of how a simple thing like choice of words dramatically changes the perception of a message.
Touching hearts and minds
At Phosworks, we look for inspiration on how to communicate effectively and emotionally everywhere. In the midst of the most recent pandemic, Nike for example, communicated hope by showing how their roster of athletes remained active during lockdown. They also made their Nike Training Club app available for free – so people could access workouts and training tips from home.
In conclusion, throughout history, great communication has saved lives and given hope. It serves as a reminder that we need to take communication seriously. To make sure you get your message across. To make it easy to understand. And that communication is a crucial component to build trust and relationships.