Social media spreads word on flu: CDC

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a modest 2,500 people followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Twitter feed, CDCEmergency, when it was launched during the outbreak of Salmonella linked to Peanut Corp. of America products earlier this year. Now that the CDC is tweeting about the H1N1 flu (aka swine flu), over 100,000 members of the interested public are following.

In addition to the Twitter feed, CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing has responded to public demand for information with a Flickr photo stream, podcasts, videos and a Facebook page. These are the media familiar to today’s consumers.

The director of the National Center for Health Marketing, Dr. Jay Bernhardt, explained that the effectiveness of the agency’s communications through these media is dependent upon public trust, which is developed by speaking the audience’s language.

For example, Berhardt said of the CDC’s Tweets, “The social media team has learned to use a lot of exclamation points in these kinds of things.”

This lit review that I’ve been working on is full of evidence of the effectiveness of communicators that target an audience and then reach out to them with relevant, reliable, rapid and repeated information through the media they use every day.

The review also supports the evaluation of communication efforts to determine their effectiveness (and make changes, if necessary).

Polls by the Harvard School of Public Health have attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of the CDC’s efforts. And while direct observation of actual consumer behaviors would provide a more accurate evaluation, results of the consumer polls have been promising:

“[T]he poll shows that 67% of Americans are now washing their hands or using sanitizers more often, compared with 59% who said the same thing a week ago,” stated a report by MedPage.

“61% of respondents said they were not concerned that they or a family member would get the H1N1 flu within the next year. That’s up from 53% who weren’t worried a week ago.”

People can handle more information—not less—about the risks in their lives. Kudos to CDC.