San José to Increase Vaccination Rates in Hard-to-Reach Communities by Using Social Media Messengers

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The pilot program is a partnership between Knight Foundation, the City of San José and XOMAD to work with trusted community members through social media to increase vaccinations.

“This program gives us the opportunity to partner with residents to share vital vaccine information with their audiences to ensure we reach as many people as possible,” said Lee Wilcox, San Josè deputy city manager and director of the Emergency Operations Center.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and XOMAD have partnered with the City of San José to launch a pilot campaign that recruits residents to use their diverse voices and languages to influence residents in hard-to-reach communities and inform them about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, so they can get vaccinated.

Mis- and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines have sown fear and confusion nationwide, especially in marginalized communities. San José is no exception. Cultural trauma, distrust of authorities and a lack of transportation to vaccine sites have led to lower vaccination rates among the city’s Latinx and Black residents.

San José officials are looking to reach Santa Clara County’s vaccination goal of 85% of residents being fully vaccinated by August 1. They are taking an innovative approach of using messengers that people trust the most — their friends, neighbors and colleagues — to reach San José residents with facts about the vaccines, so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their community.

With a $125,000 investment from Knight Foundation, City officials launched an outreach campaign with XOMAD, a digital word-of-mouth marketing agency, to utilize XOMAD’s proprietary Advisory Council platform. The platform identifies local micro and nano influencers – social media messengers with between 1,000 and 100,000 followers – and connects them with city officials to develop and broadcast public health information about the vaccines.

The City is leveraging these trusted messengers’ authentic relationships — specifically with members of the Vietnamese, Latinx and Black communities — to disseminate crucial information about the benefits of getting vaccinated and how to schedule shots by using their own unique voices and stories on social media. To help ensure accurate information is being delivered, all content is fact-checked by City officials before it goes live. In return, the messengers are paid for their creativity and time spent on crafting and sharing relatable content on their social networks.

“Our diverse communities are what make San José such a special place, and their health and wellness is our number one priority,” said Lee Wilcox, deputy city manager and director of the Emergency Operations Center. “This program gives us the opportunity to partner with residents to share vital vaccine information with their audiences to ensure we reach as many people as possible.”

The San José campaign will serve as a pilot from which other cities, civic groups, religious groups, or other organizations can discover new strategies to connect authentically within their own communities digitally and at scale.

“The coronavirus tested San José and pushed us to our limit,” said Chris Thompson, Knight’s San José program director. “Knight Foundation has a long history of investing in the city — where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published the San Jose Mercury News — and we’re continuing to double down on our investments to help the community move forward in its time of need.”

XOMAD has seen success with its Advisory Council platform in other areas of the country. They have successfully launched large groups of local trusted community messengers in grassroots social media campaigns to deliver public health information around COVID-19 in diverse communities in the state of New Jersey and the city of Columbia, S.C., as well as with health departments in Oklahoma and North Carolina.

“As we’ve seen in a variety of other cases, XOMAD’s Council is the ultimate democratic tool and platform where government officials and citizens may re-envision civic engagement in the digitally-connected age,” said Rob Perry, XOMAD founder and CEO. “Officials can connect directly with influential citizens, who then create calls to action to help their communities, including for younger audiences to help older relatives who can’t be otherwise reached digitally.”

The social media messengers involved in the campaign are spreading the word through hashtags #StayHealthySJ and #ThisIsOurShotSJ. On May 6, their first postings appeared on Instagram.

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination clinics and vaccination safety in Santa Clara County, please visit To view the latest data pertaining to COVID-19 cases, testing, and vaccinations in Santa Clara County, please visit

About the City of San José
With more than one million residents, San José is one of the most diverse large cities in the United States and is Northern California’s largest city and the 10th largest city in the nation. San José’s transformation into a global innovation center has resulted in one of the largest concentrations of technology companies and expertise in the world. In 2011, the City adopted Envision San José 2040, a long-term growth plan that sets forth a vision and a comprehensive road map to guide the City’s anticipated growth through the year 2040.

About Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

XOMAD is the agency of choice for local and state governments, including California, New Jersey, Columbia SC, and Oklahoma City County Health Department, to engage with hard-to-reach communities via digital word-of-mouth programs. XOMAD specializes in community activations for civic engagement and crisis management. Each of their programs activate trusted community messengers via a dedicated Council platform for insights, innovations, and grassroots social media campaigns. XOMAD has been recently featured on CNN, CNBC, The Atlantic, and CBS stations. XOMAD also works in the private sector with major brands such as Clorox, L’Oreal, Walmart, Filemaker by Apple, Ocean Spray, and many more. For more information, please visit

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