A COVID solution for 1.4 billion people

How do you change the behavior of 1.4 billion people facing the same problem – albeit all in their own unique ways?

By Stephen Maina, Program Manager – Social Media, Digital Health and Monitoring, PSI; and Judy Mwangi, East Africa Regional Monitoring Advisor, Digital Health and Monitoring, PSI

The COVID Delta variant spread through India from May-June 2021. It goes without saying: we needed to motivate people in India to adopt COVID-19 preventive behaviors and vaccine uptake.  And yet, in a country as vast and as diverse as India, we asked ourselves: how could we reach and inspire consumers to take up a common behavior amidst different experiences? 

In partnership with Meta (formerly Facebook), we launched a social behavior change campaign aimed at inspiring mask wearing and vaccine uptake for users in India active on Facebook. 

What did we do? How did our learnings inform our response? We explain below.

India’s Delta Wave

During the Delta wave, India recorded up to two million new cases per week. We needed to understand the behavior behind the increased transmission. The University of Maryland Social Data Science Center Global COVID-19 Trends and Impact Survey, the largest population-based survey supporting COVID-19 research and action, showed that markers for general COVID-19  prevention measures (hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing) were low; thus we launched a campaign around various prevention measures and recorded significant behavior change in mask wearing for COVID-19 prevention.

We also focused on combating COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and motivating COVAX uptake. Using data from the University of Maryland Social Data Science Center Global COVID-19 Trends and Impact Survey, in partnership with Meta, we identified vaccination rates and factors driving vaccine hesitancy in India. The COVAX uptake campaign targeted to various audiences primarily women; and ran on the Between Us India Facebook page, a trusted source that women across India turn to for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) questions.

Finally, we ran a campaign emphasizing the      importance of wearing masks post-vaccination, as consumer insights indicated that mask wearing had declined with increased uptake of COVAX. However, the campaigns did not yield the expected effect on influencing sustained mask wearing.

Pictured: Creatives used in the India COVID-19 Facebook campaign .

Our Impact

  • Reached 27 million people with content viewed 163 million times
  • Women aged 25-34 who saw the campaign were 4.3 percentage points more likely to report that COVID-19 vaccines are safe in preventing COVID-19 compared to people who did not see the campaign.
  • Based on the population this campaign reached, it potentially led 189,000 more people to express their confidence in explaining how COVID-19 vaccines work.
Pictured: Snapshot of the 2021 COVID-19 Campaign In India in Partnership with Meta

What We Learned

1: Less perceived importance in the mask wearing post-vaccination

It was important for fully vaccinated people to continue to wear face masks and maintain physical distance while in public spaces. During the initial phases of the campaign, we saw a significant increase in mask-wearing when COVAX was not accessible to most of the population.  However, following a post-vaccine campaign, our research showed  perception of the importance of mask-wearing decreased once individuals had been vaccinated   

2: Segmenting audiences leads to optimal results

Even though COVID-19 remains a global problem that affects all demographics, we learned that there were benefits in segmenting the 410 million people on Facebook in India according to age and gender and running vaccine safety campaigns to only provinces with high vaccine hesitancy rates. We also split the audiences between men and women and displayed creatives to women to tackle the specific concerns they had regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pictured: Creatives used in India for the COVID-19 campaign addressing some of the vaccine hesitancies in women.

3: Importance of testing messages prior to implementation of campaigns 

We have also learned the need for AB testing before launching full campaigns. For example, we tested text-only Ads vs Ads with images with the same messaging to see which drove more engagement.

We discovered that the text-only Ad performed slightly better, that is, had a lower cost per reach (8.22 Rupees) versus the creative with an image which was more expensive with a higher cost per reach (8.73 Rupees). In some age groups however, like the 18–24-year-old women, the variation was much larger with the text image costing significantly lower 7.95 Rupees vs 9.05 rupees for the creative with an image.

In another AB Testing, it was discovered that using the word ‘Third Wave’ performed slightly better i.e., had a lower cost per reach of 8.81 Rupees, as opposed to using ‘Omicron’ in the creatives which had a higher cost per reach of 8.90 rupees.

Pictured: Creatives used in India to test out the preferred format for the COVID-19 campaign.

4: Opportunities still exist to influence consumers’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors

We also identified potential areas of improvement and impact going forward.  For example, while we increased knowledge in how vaccines work in 3.8 million people, by 2.9 percentage points, there are still about 39 percent who are not confident in explaining how COVID-19 vaccines work. 

Another area we see potential to impact going forward is around vaccine importance, as 17 percent of women aged 18-54 in India do not consider vaccines to be important. An even greater opportunity is around vaccine safety, as 30 percent of women in India who do not consider the COVID-19 vaccine to be safe.

Pictured: % difference the poll results of those who saw the campaign (Test) and those who did not (Control).

There is still much work left for us to do. Digital behavior change campaigns offer a powerful means to reach and motivate people to choose preventive measures amidst COVID-19. It’s on us to continue to reach everyone, everywhere where they are and with messages that resonate to inspire the change critical to curbing the pandemic, once and for all.

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