TEXAS (NewsNation) — Communicating to the public about a pandemic that is ever changing is a challenge, even for the experts.
Since March, the Texas Department of State Health Services has spent $6.3 million educating Texans about COVID-19.
DSHS is now hiring social media influencers, like Parker James, to spread facts about the virus. The 19 year-old is known to his 6 million followers on TikTok as “Steven.”
“My character Steven really likes dinosaurs, so I’m going to make this thing called the dino club,” said James. “So whenever you follow me, you are now a part of the dino club.”
James, who is known for creating videos that appeal to his young audience, is now helping his home state stay safe during the pandemic.
“I brought a more childlike character to them to inform them on the importance of wearing masks, sanitizing, and overall social distancing and being safe,” he said.
Olympic medalist and Plano native, Nastia Liuken is also joining the effort. In a video she posted in July, Liuken shows her followers how to properly wear a mask, after tumbling across a kitchen counter.
The partnership is no stunt. According to The University of Austin Center for Health Communication Director, Michael Mackert, it’s a strategy that makes sense.
“Corporate brands and advertising have been on social media for a long time and there’s a reason for it because they’ve found where there people are and can reach them where they’re likely to hear them,” Mackert said.
James isn’t doing it for the money. This project is personal for him. His father who beat pancreatic cancer has a weakened immune system.
“When my friends would want to go out to hang out I would tell them I understand we are just hanging out, and you guys have been safe, but I just can’t risk it,” James said.
So far, James’ video has been viewed more than 3 million times.
“So if this effort in Texas really works, then great, other states should do the exact same thing,” said Mackert. “And if it happens to not work, well then why didn’t it work? What can we learn from that?”
The #StayHomeTexas and #HealthyTexas campaigns aren’t going anywhere. DSHS plants to continue the effort through February 2021.
“The sooner you guys start wearing mask and social distancing, the sooner this will all be over and you can get back to your normal life,” James added.