Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

While then-Prime Minister Stephen McNeil begged people to “stay home” during the first COVID-19 lockdown last year, Nova Scotia’s messages on social media have consistently taken a gentler, often humorous approach to encouraging people to follow restrictions on public health.

Whether it’s two beloved Nova Scotians who want to “take things to the next level” by being tested for COVID-19 or on “the worst Noël,” said the experts, limit our social circles and stay six meters away, ” examples are plentiful.

“In a difficult situation, it’s a way to break the ice with people,” said David Denny, Nova Scotia’s Chief Marketing Officer.

He said the province’s social media channels have experienced exponential growth since the pandemic began and registered engagement on its posts.

For example, the province’s Facebook followers have tripled to nearly 110,000 since the pandemic began, while its Instagram followers have increased nearly tenfold to more than 36,000.

Denny attributes this in part to the videos produced by private companies that the province can share on its social media channels.

In addition to these videos, the province has paid for promoted posts, mainly on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These posts have included everything from geographically targeted advertising for a regional pop-up test site to targeting a message to a specific demographic.

But it is unclear how much this marketing effort has cost taxpayers.

Nova Scotia’s Prime Minister Stephen McNeil made his ‘Stay the blazes home’ comment at a briefing in April 2020. (CBC)

A CBC News request for access to billing information regarding the province’s COVID-19 social media marketing strategy revealed that 61 of the 196 bills covering March 1, 2020 to July 15, 2021, did not include a total amount. The incomplete invoices came from Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Invoices from marketing companies and video production companies that the province worked with included the full amounts. Part of this effort included working with paid influencers.

Use of influencers

“Sometimes people just don’t want to hear from the government and the message will resonate more from a peer or someone who they feel is a peer they look up to … they also have a bigger [following] than we do, so it gets more eyes on the message, and it can sometimes be delivered in a way that only that segment of the population can deliver it, ”Denny said.

One of those influencers is Halifax’s Alicia McCarvell, a body positivity advocate who has 3.3 million followers on TikTok and 386,000 on Instagram.

The province paid Toronto marketing agency Shine Influencers $ 11,025 for McCarwell’s services for this video, as well as $ 15,687.50 for Canadian Content Studios to produce the video, which encourages people to get tested for COVID-19.

Another influencer, Andy Hay from Andy’s East Coast Kitchen, produced a video on how to make a Christmas dinner for under $ 50.

The province paid $ 3,955 to Toronto-based Diner Agency Inc. for influencer partnership and video creation.

Nova Scotia also used unpaid collaboration with local athletes and people in black Scottish and indigenous communities to spread the message of being vaccinated.

Dalhousie University marketing professor Mohammed El Hazzouri says Nova Scotia’s decision to use humor and thank people for following public health restrictions in their social media campaigns is effective. (Submitted by Mohammed El Hazzouri)

Dalhousie University marketing professor Mohammed El Hazzouri, who studies how people respond to public health messages, said the province’s social media strategy adopts the right tone.

“When you use humor, when you’re funny in your advertising, I think people are more receptive to that advertising,” he said. “People do not think about the details of the ad or come up with counter-arguments to what you say, and therefore the message becomes more accepted.”

Denny said it was part of the goal.

“That’s kind of our ultimate goal, because it was information that was important and information that at the end of the day was about keeping Nova Scotians safe,” he said. “And all we could do to make it more divisible, we looked at.”

‘It’s a strange time’

At the end of some videos, a narrator thanks Nova Scotians for following public health restrictions.

“We know it’s a strange time and we know you understand it, so thank you for staying home, following health advice, and taking care of each other,” the narrator said.

El Hazzouri liked this.

“I think this is very important, this recognition of, ‘we are working together on this,'” he said. “This is not a very common practice. I have not seen it widely in Canada, so this one stands out to me and thanks Nova Scotians for following the rules.”

As the pandemic has evolved from staying home during the first lockdown to gradual reopening and vaccinations – with some more lockdowns sprinkled in – Denny said the province is working to get more people vaccinated.

As of Friday, 75.9 percent of Nova Scotians were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“There are pockets of people who are harder to reach, or who are perhaps more hesitant,” Denny said. “We have taken steps to reach them and through targeted marketing efforts.”

But even though the province’s messages on social media have consistently offered a carrot to people, recent policies such as Proof of vaccination to participate in non-essential activities and mandatory vaccinations for provincial officials more to a stick.

“With these new policies in place … hopefully it encourages people to get vaccinated,” Denny said.

See Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 invoices on social media, covering March 1, 2020 to July 15, 2021.

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