How AARP & Tivity Health are Protecting Seniors from Coronavirus Misinformation

It’s a bitter irony of the Coronavirus era that the elderly--the people most vulnerable from a medical standpoint--also tend to be most at risk for misinformation. Thankfully, companies like Tivity Health and AARP have gone into overdrive to get the real (truthful) word out on what seniors should be doing to minimize possible exposure to the virus.


“The fact that this virus is most dangerous for the older population and those that have underlying health conditions makes it essential that we use our trusted voice and many communications channels to push out information continually alerting people,” says Martha Boudreau, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer of AARP. “While the media has expanded coverage beyond causation and self-protection into financial and mental health impacts, we cannot let up our focus on the fundamentals of self-protection.”

To help drive digital literacy, Boudreau says, AARP is working with the Poynter Institute to adapt its Mediawise curriculum, which was designed by Stanford University for teenagers, to help older Americans recognize misinformation in the media. “More than 50,000 people call in to our weekly Tele-Town Hall meetings, which cover various topics from caring for loved ones to false advertising and scams associated with the virus,” Boudreau says. “We have developed content to help people protect themselves from coronavirus-related fraud, including tips on how to avoid phishing scams, ransomware and bogus solicitations. Our Fraud Watch Network has a toll-free number for reporting fraud and scams and we have staff in our Contact Centers who are specifically trained to help people identify scams and protect themselves.”

Joe Ahn, VP-Marketing for Tivity Health, says his company’s mission to improve the health of the community has never been more important. “Our colleagues have been racing around the clock to create new, meaningful ways to meet our seniors’ needs in these uncertain times. Knowing the role we play in positively impacting the lives of our members keeps us focused.”

Ahn says Tivity Health has spent years partnering with Linkwell Health experts and journalists to establish its award-winning SilverSneakers blog as a reputable and trusted source for senior health and fitness content. “This is a time of rapid change and our content approach positions us to stay nimble in messaging to our members, especially in a time when facts on the ground are changing week to week. For example, moving from gym advice, to online classes, to relevant Covid-19 information, and then ultimately back to the gym and community when appropriate.”

Tivity Health created its SilverSneakers program so seniors would have a place to go for reliable health information. It’s never been more important than it is in the Coronavirus age.

Via SilverSneakers, Tivity Health is able to engage members with health resources and support capabilities to help them stay socially connected, physically active, and virtually engaged during this period of social distancing and isolation. “Last week we launched Facebook Live classes,” Ahn says, “which will be broadcast multiple times per week so our community can participate in classes led by our master trainers. The first three classes have been viewed more than 530,000 times in the first week.”

For eligible members, the company also offers a SilverSneakers On-Demand library with more than 200 instructor-led video classes. “We’ve begun releasing a few of our most popular On-Demand videos to our ‘Fan Dashboard’ so even those not currently eligible can stay active from the safety of their homes,” Ahn says. 

The name of the game right now is overcommunication, according to both Boudreau and Ahn. Getting as much correct information out there as possible means keeping people as safe as possible. “For official health information about the virus,” Boudreau says, “we are referring people to the CDC website. However, AARP has also created an enormous amount of content targeting older Americans and family caregivers at aarp.org/coronavirus. We have promoted that content through social media channels, email and digital newsletters, the AARP app, in the pages of our publications, nationally broadcast tele-town halls and through earned media. It is a content-heavy, multi-channel campaign.”


Martha Boudreau, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer, AARP

Boudreau says AARP has also been in close touch with the CDC, helping to shape clear, actionable communications to the 60-plus audience. “We helped develop messages that cut through the jargon to educate older Americans as well as the more than 40 million family caregivers in the nation. The starting point was anticipating the questions consumers were likely to ask and create easy-to-understand messages that struck an objective and credible tone.”

Tivity Health is doing its part to consistently engage members too, says Ahn, tightly coordinating communication through multiple channels, wherever the audience may be--blog, video, email, social, SilverSneakers GO! Mobile app, etc. Especially today, all channels matter because there’s no certainty one will deliver the message. “We are effective because our community views us as a fitness and lifestyle partner that encourages members with messages of motivation and aspiration.”

The brand is also helping to fight any media perception that seniors are frail or meek. “That is quite the opposite of our members,” Ahn says. “We speak to our seniors as consumers first, and they want to be engaged and represented as a strong and resilient group. Media can effectively communicate to our seniors without leaning into fear as the motivator.”

Of course, fear and apprehension are not in short supply right now among the general population. To monitor it all, AARP has a sophisticated Voice of the Consumer (VOC) capability which collects consumer comments across eleven channels ranging from social, direct mail, online communities as well as contact centers, Boudreau says. “Every day we run the reports, which show what people are the most concerned about. That, in turn, informs our content strategy.” The most pronounced issues at the moment, she says? Testing availability, tips for caring for loved ones and financial implications of COVID-19.

Boudreau, in the thick of helping AARP’s members through this difficult time, offers some hope as we look to get to the other side of this chaotic period. “My father is 95, born in 1924,” she says. “He came of age during the Depression and has carried that perspective throughout his life. Perhaps one of the blessings of age is understanding that life is a continuum and this dark moment in history will pass. My dad knows that it is how we treat each other, and the most vulnerable, in these tough times that says a lot about our country, our communities and ourselves.”


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