Pioneering Ideas Presented at CDC Learning Session on Blogs

Apr 12, 2007, 8:57 AM, Posted by

Yesterday in Atlanta, I spoke on a panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at informing CDC’s internal e-learning community of practice about how blogging can serve as an effective tool for public health communications.  It was an honor – with all that the CDC is doing to utilize new media, I felt like Pioneering Ideas had arrived in some small way…our foray in to blogging was gaining some degree of recognition and support among others who have been active in this space for some time.

The event was hosted by the CDC’s Division of E-Health Marketing – part of the National Center on Health Marketing, which started a blog called Health Marketing Musings, penned by director Jay Bernhardt.  Joining me on the panel were Craig Lefebvre, who runs a terrific blog on new media, social change and social marketing; Toby Bloomberg, who runs the Diva Marketing blog and consults widely on organizational social media strategies; and Marianne Richmond, who blogs on social media and word of mouth marketing here.

Most audience members worked in various CDC program areas and were contemplating whether and how blogs might help them deliver key health information to audiences that need it.  A couple of CDC divisions have launched blogs – I give them props, for the agency does not make it easy to gain clearance or use standard technologies to blog freely. I hope more folks at CDC get in to the fray – the information they have to share, informed by the highest levels of research and practice, plays a critical role as more and more people seek health information in the blogosphere.

Craig Lefebvre perhaps summed it up best when he said during the Q&A, “What if the post-9/11 anthrax scare happened now instead of then?”  If the CDC isn’t out in front in the blogosphere, owning that issue and guiding the public in how to interpret the threat and respond appropriately, other bloggers who might be less expert, but quicker to capitalize on the information vacuum, will command the blogging stage. 

Marianne Richards added that this is happening with the ongoing pet food contamination disaster.  The companies involved all had Web sites and lawyers advising them on disclosure from a damage-control perspective…meanwhile, frantic pet owners were turning to blogs to figure out what was safe to feed their dogs and cats.  Bloggers overnight positioned blogs to provide information on the problem, instantly getting huge traffic; whether they offered credible information or not was left to the readers to determine. 

So Craig has a strong point here—even if the medium may be unfamiliar, and it’s harder to control an organization’s messages on a blog than, say, in a printed brochure, in today’s world the stakes in public health are too high to leave blogging up to other players.

In turn, some of the stuff they are doing has inspired me as we look to grow Pioneering Ideas, and enhance RWJF communications in general.  They are figuring out effective ways to channel useful information to partner bloggers – for example, the CDC collaborated with a group of bloggers during the recent flu season to provide them with the most authoritative information on preventing and treating the flu.  These bloggers are the outreach nodes to parents, schools and others in the community that are out there searching for the best ways to stay healthy.  This seems promising as a savvy, relatively low-cost and potentially far-reaching “viral” strategy for spreading timely and trusted health information.  They also report heavy downloads of podcasts from the site, own an island on Second Life and have MySpace and Flicker presences.

Thanks so much to Erin Edgerton at the CDC for the invite – it was great to be part of the event.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.