Reaching the Vaccine-Averse: The Role of Cue-based Trust in COVID-19 Vaccination Social Media Vlogs Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy
The Coleman Group Inc. is proud to support public health data mapping and behavior change research. Our recent vaccine hesitancy work with Dr. Alexander Pfeuffer and our company’s original research on COVID-19 behavior change research among resistant populations has led to Coleman’s contribution to further work in the field.
Read more below about Dr. Pfeuffer and his colleagues’ work below.
By Alexander Pfeuffer
Throughout the pandemic, many individuals have taken to social media to document their experiences with COVID-19 in the form of online videos to encourage others to practice safer behaviors to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available, a similar trend has emerged of individuals sharing their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine via electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) to provide others with additional information about the vaccine and the vaccination process, and to encourage others to get vaccinated as well.
eWOM has become an important resource for individuals seeking additional information on the COVID-19 vaccine from those who appear not to have a stake in others’ decisions to obtain the vaccination. eWOM constitutes a trustworthy source of such information to individuals, as it is typically user-generated and content creators often maintain editorial control, even when the content is initiated by a brand or organization.
Recognizing the potential in depicting regular individuals’ vaccination experiences in increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake on social media platforms, organizations such as universities, companies, or government agencies have begun sharing regular individuals’ experiences throughout the vaccination process to encourage others to also obtain the vaccine.
For instance, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recently begun sharing vlogs (i.e., video blogs) of individuals sharing their COVID-19 vaccination experience on its social media channels (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021). However, despite the prevalence, timeliness, and importance of such eWOM, research on the aspects of eWOM that may elicit cue-based trust in the health messaging and the COVID-19 vaccine remains slow to develop. The theoretical construct of trust is usually thought of as an experiential construct in which cumulative experience leads to individuals’ willingness to rely on information and act upon it, even in the presence of risk, uncertainty, or vulnerability. eWOM, however, constitutes a unique context that is not conducive for experiential trust formation, because it often does not allow individuals to rely on pre-existing cumulative experiences to develop trust. Instead, individuals must frequently use heuristic cues to develop an initial level of trust in order to engage in an uncertain situation (Wang 2001). Research on cue-based trust is still limited and has been examined foremost in the commercial context, such as product websites (Huh and Shin 2014; Mayer, Huh, and Cude 2005). This research has shown that online content attributes can serve as cues for trust and enable individuals to develop an initial level of trust even in the absence of previous experience with an online entity.
eWOM is a type of content that, particularly when conveying health information, differs significantly from product websites as it constitutes user-generated content rather than content created by a company, organization, or brand. Given these key differences in the message content, message creator, and editorial control, eWOM content would likely differ in individuals’ expectations and involvement, the likelihood to rely on heuristic cues for trust formation, and any types of cues on which individuals would rely to develop their trust. Given eWOM’s prevalence and unique characteristics over other online content, cue-based trust in eWOM health messaging deserves further research.
The proposed study will focus specifically on user-generated COVID-19 vaccine information in social media-based vlogs disseminated by individuals or organizations as a form of eWOM. This type of content has become particularly important for individuals to share their experiences, for organizations to disseminate vaccine-related information, as well as to individuals seeking information to form their attitudes and make informed decisions. Thus, eWOM content attributes and trust cues can be highly important for individuals in determining whether they are willing to trust the COVID-19 vaccine information presented in the social media-based COVID-19 vaccination vlogs.
To address this phenomenon, a multi-method study (Study 1: Focus groups; Study 2: Survey; Study 3: Online experiment) will aim to (1) identify eWOM content attributes in online vaccine experience vlogs that serve as trust cues to individuals, allowing them to form an initial level of trust toward the vlogger and the COVID-19 vaccine, (2) evaluate the efficacy of such trust cues at generating individuals’ trust, and (3) identify cues that most effectively influence individuals’ trust and attitudinal and behavioral responses. To pursue these research goals, we will first conduct a series of focus groups to identify prevalent cues for trust in both the vlogger and the COVID-19 vaccine. In a subsequent online survey, we will evaluate the identified trust cues’ efficacy at generating individuals’ trust in both the vlogger and the COVID-19 vaccine. Both studies’ insights in concert will help identify the most effective trust cues in vaccination information videos. Finally, an online experimental study will examine the effects of the most effective trust cues on individuals’ trust in the vlogger and the COVID-19 vaccine, their attitude toward the COVID-19 vaccine, and their behavioral intention to get vaccinated or, if they have been vaccinated, obtain additional COVID-19 vaccine doses as needed.