CDC goes viral through social media

A CDC online director says agencies must provide the tools and resources the public wants

Agencies looking to get more citizen engagement in government must provide information, tools and resources, and provide them how, when, and where people want them, according to Janice Nall, director of the Division of eHealth Marketing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Marketing.

If people are getting their information out in the social atmosphere, that is where government agencies have to be, Nall said at a recent AFFIRM luncheon, titled “Putting Citizens at the Center of Government,” in Washington, D.C.


Related: Agencies tap online resources to spread the word on swine flu outbreak


Nall spoke on a panel with federal managers from the Agriculture and Homeland Security departments, which was moderated by David McClure, associate administrator of the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Communications.

Nall said if people are getting information about sexually transmitted diseases in Second Life, talking about how to quit smoking on mobile phones and checking blogs that tell them which vaccinations to get their kids, that’s where the CDC has to be.

“That is where the commercial entities are, that is where we have to be to as government,” she said.

This does not mean regurgitating of all an agency’s information verbatim, she said. Instead, agencies need be in the social space with salient points and bringing people back to mother ship -- the agency Web site -- for more information and detail.

Research suggests that people go to at least seven different sources for health information. They are not necessarily coming to the CDC for flu information. They are going to the WebMed site or to their physicians, Nall said. So increasingly, CDC has to have its tentacles out to these other sources.

To reach people, agencies can’t assume that they know what users want. They have to ask.

To provide people with information about the H1N1 flu virus, CDC ramped up social media tools ranging from text messaging to online video, she said.

Developing metrics that show whether these forms of communication are being used is vital, Nall said.

“We measure anything that doesn’t move,” Nall said. “We are very big on transparency, on what works and what doesn’t," she said. CDC has a metrics dashboard that reports on “where we are in terms of usage, demographics and opinion."

“It is not just metrics. We’re not just doing it because it is cool,” she said. The bottom line is to get more mothers to make sure that their children are vaccinated, or more people to recycle, or reduce the waiting time for people at airports.

Nall is now on special detail with the GSA’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement, which is trying to make it easier for agencies to use social media tools and citizens to provide input and to do it efficiently.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 30, 2010

The CDC is the marketing / advertising arm of Big Pharma. The gov't was formed to defend the country from invasion - FAILED! and to protect it's citizens' rights - FAILED! H1N1 is a fraud as is forced vaccination and most of the medicines these miscreants promote. Get out of our health and lives in general. Despite our dumbing down, more and more citizens are becoming aware of this MEGA-FRAUD!

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 Karen Rocks Chicago, IL

I think the CDC is slightly missing the social aspect of social media. You can put all the videos, posts, and tweets on facts out there, but if you aren't interacting with your audience, you and your audience are losing out on a big part of the experience. Maybe because that part is not 100% measurable in solid terms, they are not comfortable in pursuing that route.

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 RayW

"Research suggests that people go to at least seven different sources for health information. They are not necessarily coming to the CDC for flu information. They are going to the WebMed site or to their physicians, Nall said. So increasingly, CDC has to have its tentacles out to these other sources." Maybe they are at the other sites because they do not trust our federal government and the CDC? I know a lot of folks who ignore the CDC because they just plain do not trust them. From what little I know of "social" media, the people who are using the multitude of versions have to go specifically look in that media for what they want, which means spreading communication resources across a multitude (counted seven links on one site) of various methods in hopes that someone will choose to connect to you. And until they get cell phone and wireless connectivity costs down, a lot of people will still not be 'connected' to the new CDC.

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 oracle2world

For the most part, whatever an Agency shill has to say isn't of much interest. (CDC might have less of a problem here.) But otherwise, figure if anyone identifies themselves as being from a gov't agency, figure nothing interesting is going to be said.

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 Anton Marx Washington, DC

As the internet content providers become more sophisticated in their proliferation and appeal to the public they should keep in mind that their audience also is becoming more sophisticated and discriminating. The reason people browse seven different web sites for healthcare information is that they understand that any content placed on the web has an agenda behind it, and one that is not necessarily completely truthful or in their best interest. Casting the net wide gives people at least the illusion that they are getting a more complete [informed] view of reality.

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