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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