Melissa’s take on:
Social listening and community leaders.
From the start of COVID-19, Melissa led her county’s 15-person team responsible for communicating with the public. It became clear that to identify residents’ pandemic needs and questions, they had to hear from them — the people sheltering at home, working as frontline responders, and going to school online.
In this case, “social listening” meant studying phone-call logs, emails and news media as well as social media. It also meant listening to the people already trusted by others in the community — “those trusted advisors who can hold up a mirror to you.”
Good listening means listening to every voice, Melissa says, without disqualifying some. It means listening with humility as people talk about their barriers and strengths. It means being an on-the-ground presence, showing up at other groups’ meetings rather than asking them to come to yours.
“In the pandemic, we leaned a lot more into trusted organizations,” Melissa says. “If I’m really honest, what the pandemic taught a lot of local public health is how much we needed to learn to do that better.”
In the pandemic, we leaned a lot more into trusted organizations. If I’m really honest, what the pandemic taught a lot of local public health is how much we needed to learn to do that better.
Engaging news media as partners.
Melissa’s local public health department wasn’t in the news so much before the pandemic. Then, suddenly, it was there every day.
“We really developed a relationship with local media partners,” she says. “We needed them – that was the shift: We need this relationship, and we need this to be a positive relationship.”
Melissa’s advice for strong relationships with local media:
- Build trust with reporters by providing the best information you can as soon as you can.
- Be transparent. When you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If things change because new information is available, explain why to reporters — so they can explain the changes to their readers.
- Work to meet journalists’ needs, just as they are helping you meet your need to provide crucial information to residents. That means returning their calls quickly, knowing their deadlines, and helping them meet them.
Using that spotlight.
And, when your organization is in the spotlight, ask yourself how you can leverage those eyes.
“That’s a gift, when there is a spotlight on you,” Melissa says. “Having a spotlight on this aspect of public health was an opportunity to pivot to talk about other important aspects of public health. It was an entry point to talk about the housing crisis and health inequities — and how they were exacerbated by COVID.”
Bachelor of science, community health education, Western Washington University
Bachelor of science, developmental biology, Trinity Western University
Leadership & Volunteering
Volunteer tutor for English language learners, Whatcom Literacy Council