“People don’t expect the government to get it”

29 09 2009

Government agencies have a front row seat to the show; they are observing the importance for candidates and big businesses to engage their audiences personally and interactively, while remaining somewhat excused from the consumer expectations of an active online presence that exists in other industries. But as government agencies begin to implement social media platforms, a new standard is set.

Everyone I go I hear talk about swine flu, and as such an important and widely discussed current issue it’s no surprise that rumors have developed and H1N1 hysteria has ensued. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a major component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is aimed at providing accurate and official information regarding disease prevention and health education to better the lives of the American public. In carrying out this mission amidst the current H1N1 outbreak, the CDC has recently launched a social media campaign that provides information, guidance and support for audiences available through almost every aspect of new media; an approach that even Ad Age has praised as revolutionary.

The big issue here is not that the CDC has implemented social media. If that was the noteworthy aspect, we could praise almost every business out there. Instead, we see an industry that has remained previously untouched by technological advances until having the realization that its audience have practically abandoned traditional methods of seeking health information. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found in a June 2009 study that the American public has become almost solely dependent on the internet for health information. This conclusion transformed the task of the CDC in arming the American public for battle against H1N1.

In true best practice style, the CDC searched social media sites prior to launching the campaign to find out where people were misguided and the assumptions or stereotypes people held about H1N1. They searched on Twitter, scanned Facebook pages for group discussions and read blogs only to discover that many of the “facts” about the H1N1 virus were simply false. It was after gathering this information and in response to it that the CDC implemented its campaign to bridge these gaps in knowledge in a way that would actually impact consumers.

While government agencies and departments are not usually compared to or held to the same standards as corporations in consumer relations and social media, the CDC raises the bar for even the most progressive Fortune 500 companies and we can expect other governmental agencies to follow suit.



3 responses

30 09 2009
Amy English

The first place I go to diagnose myself when I’m sick webMD.com. Virtual, internet access to health information is so much faster than making an appointment to see a real life doctor. I like how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken the initiative to set the story straight and stop rumors in their tracks about such a hot topic- the H1N1 virus. Twitter is a great way to send short updates and “wash your hand” reminders to CDC followers.

1 10 2009
Casey Shaw

It is so good to know that organizations as important and influential as the CDC have decided to embrace social media in order to get their message across. People are terrified of H1N1, and there’s so much (mis)information out there that a credible source is needed to set the record straight and attempt to quell people’s fears. I commend the CDC for doing their research on social networking sites and then adapting their campaign to correct misinformation. It’s a great example of establishing a dialogue with consumers in order to be more effective in an endeavor.

4 10 2009
Ashley Siegle

This makes me think of when I was at the airport this summer and people were walking around with masks on! It was a hysteria! Social media can truly do good in so many areas of our daily life, including health and medicine. Like your post and Casey say, social media can help put an end to rumors and fear that sets off madness within the general public. The next thing you know our doctor appointments will be via online, and who knows, maybe the need for “personal” doctors will subdue. Social media obviously hasn’t just affected the consumer world, but our health care as well.

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