Surgeon General Jerome Adams wanted Kylie Jenner’s help. He got it.
During a “Good Morning America” interview with Michael Strahan last Thursday, Adams called on Jenner and other “social media influencers” to help their young followers understand the gravity of coronavirus. The doctor’s plea made headlines and, before the day was over, Jenner answered his call. It was a shrewd move.
The 22-year-old billionaire posted stories to Instagram, responding directly to Adams. “I know I’ve already been doing my daily reminders about how important it is right now to practice social distancing and self-quarantine. I’m going on my ninth day. The coronavirus is a real thing. I listened to the Surgeon General this morning…he definitely encouraged me to come on here and talk to you guys,” Jenner said. She has 167 million Instagram followers.
In his interview with Strahan, Adams argued influencers could help convince kids the Wuhan virus is a legitimate threat.
“What I really think we need to do…was get our our influencers, Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell—we need to get Kylie Jenner, we need to get our social media influencers out there and helping folks understand that look, this is serious, this is absolutely serious, people are dying,” Adams explained. “We again are seeing new data emerging from Italy that suggests that young people may be at higher risk in different situations than what we previously thought.”
Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams on millennials and the coronavirus: “We need to get our social media influencers out there and helping folks understand that look this is serious.” https://t.co/M1e2wFmU6F pic.twitter.com/FNjZB12mKK
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 19, 2020
That’s smart. Really smart. But even more interesting is what he said immediately prior. Asked by Strahan how we can “get the message across to this generation that they need to take this more seriously,” Adams replied, “Well I have a 15 and 14-year-old, and the more I tell them not to do something, the more they want to do it.”
Jenner isn’t just “influential” when it comes to makeup and fashion. To be clear, I think there’s a misconception about how celebrities actually shape our views—it’s less that their behavior inspires mindless copycats and more that it normalizes certain trends. Spring breakers scrolling Instagram on the beach aren’t rolling up their towels and imposing quarantine at the Dayton Motel 6 because they came across Jenner’s story.
That said, a lot of young people pay very little attention to the news. One benefit of Jenner’s post is that it brought the news to them. Her open participation also makes self-quarantining look less like something for the ailing elderly and more like a precaution for healthy young people as well.
Adams is emerging as one of the administration’s most effective media spokespersons when it comes to conveying information about the pandemic. Hopefully his successful pitch to Jenner helped her fans. But while some are frustrated with young people’s lackluster response to the virus, it also offers a broader lesson in communicating effectively with their age cohort.