How local 'influencers' are encouraging vaccinations across hard-to-reach areas of SJ

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Among the dozens of posts about the latest lifestyle, fashion and food trends, about 30 people who are considered to be local influencers are also encouraging vaccinations.

The effort is all part of a pilot program, paid partnerships that found success in other states.

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"It's a pilot for us," Chris Thompson with the Knight Foundation told ABC7 News. "And so far, there's 25 micro-influencers involved in the program. They've sent out a little more than 95 posts, and there's been more than one-and-a-quarter-million impressions from those posts."

Thompson is the Knight Foundation's San Jose Program Director.

He explained, "They have a platform on social media, where they can talk to a large number of people who listen to them."

"And so our hope is that they'll be effective conduits for information that the city can provide," Thompson added.

The Knight Foundation, the City of San Jose and influencer marketing agency XOMAD recruited online personalities to target hard-to-reach residents across the city.

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Behind the social media messaging is a Bay Area resident who reflects a community where vaccination rates are the lowest and COVID-19 cases are the highest.

"In San Jose, that's predominantly our LatinX community, our Black African ancestry community and our Vietnamese community," Carolina Camarena with the City of San Jose told ABC7 News.

"Very early on in the pandemic, the city had partnered with local community leaders to really amplify messages about COVID-19 safety," she continued. "So the prospect of using residents or social media influencers only seemed like a natural progression for us."

She emphasized it was important for the city to ensure those involved were reflective of the individuals they are trying to reach.

"We think it's a great opportunity to test a new way to reach our community, particularly a marginalized community who may not otherwise be paying attention to the government or institutions," Camarena added. "Using our own residents and making sure that they also receive some funding from the Knight Foundation for this pilot program, is important."

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"Because as we recover, it's also about economic recovery, and that includes our social media influencers or small businesses," she shared.

One influencer who is involved in the campaign is Jonny Tran, a graduate of San Jose State University. He is known on social media for his creative transitions.

"The idea is like, I do maybe a flip or some sort of dynamic movement, and then I end up switching my clothes during that. So it looks really seamless," Tran told ABC7 News. "This is pretty different, since this is advocating for vaccine awareness. I do try to provide awareness to different social issues whenever they do pop up, because I think that's super important."

With 64,000 followers on Instagram and more than 165,000 on TikTok, Tran said he believes his posts amplify crucial vaccination information, using his own voice and verbiage.

"There are stories about how they're hesitant, but are more willing to," he said about a few of his followers, and the vaccine. "They see other people doing it. So, then because of that, they start to consider it or take steps towards it."

"I think just the spread of the knowledge will be a really big step. And if social media is the way that it reaches these people, then that's just the best way to do it," he added.

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Tran said he's most active on Instagram and TikTok, and has shared his vaccine story on both platforms.

"The main one was just a picture. But most of the information is in the caption, or is a carousel so you can swipe to see more of it," he said. "And it gives information on where to find more information through the website, or my own personal story of how the vaccine has affected me."

The ultimate goal of the campaign is to help Santa Clara County get 85-percent of people fully vaccinated by August First, by relying on influence.

"I think the messaging and the campaign is really targeted towards those people who are hesitant about receiving a vaccine. And we know that there's a significant portion of people, for lots of very good reasons, that are questioning that decision," Thompson with the Knight Foundation told ABC7 News. "We also know that there's a lot of false information out about vaccines, some of the effects of vaccines, the efficacy of vaccines, the safety of vaccines. So what this campaign is designed to do, is to make sure that people have access to good information so that they can make better choices."

The "social media messengers" involved in the campaign are using hashtags #StayHealthySJ and #ThisIsOurShotSJ.

For more information on the effort, click here.



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