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CDC : A Social Media Success Story

by on June 19, 2010

Guess who joined the conversation? Government agencies in the United States are now using consumer-generated media in blogs and other social media forums to add insight into the public’s self interest, knowledge and perceptions. Bought spaces are no longer as effective as they used to be, the public is now looking to their peers as influencers for their decision-making process.

With the crisis of the H1N1 virus outbreak in April 2009, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) communication efforts and social media strategies where fascinating and, as the metrics show, quite effective.

With the H1N1 Campaign, the CDC sought to educate the public about the dangers of the virus and the importance of getting vaccinated. The agency was looking to reach audiences that were specifically vulnerable to the virus. Their first step, focused on conducting research aimed at assessing information needs, attitudes and beliefs among key audiences. In addition, the agency focused on an online approach that would help build a communication infrastructure based on an open and constant exchange of information. The CDC used tools such as: Facebook, E-mail updates, e-cards, Twitter, RSS feeds, Flickr, Podcasts, online videos, and Widgets among others, to help disseminate timely and accurate flu-related information.

On Facebook CDC had frequent wall postings that primarily consisted of links to their information and news articles; most of these posting received multiple comments from fans. The CDC’s Facebook Profile Page went from having 7,000 fans in May 2009 (when it was launched) to more than 53,000 fans in December of the same year.

Also, the CDC’s three Twitter accounts had over 400,000 clickthroughs of flu-related tweets during 2009. Prior to the H1N1 outbreak CDC had fewer than 3,000 total followers. By December 2009, these three accounts combined had 1,251,936 followers.

During 2009, the CDC’s H1N1 Website had 248.5 million page views and more than 585,126 views of syndicated content on partner sites. The agency sent more 4.04 million emails with up-to-date information.

E-cards were one of CDC most innovative tools, the agency created more than 100 free Health-e-Cards (or “electronic greeting cards”) to send to friends, family, and co-workers. During 2009, there were 59,889 e-cards sent. The most viewed e-card, with 48,961 views, was called Flu Prevention for Health Professionals that had the message “Get a flu vaccine. Your patients are counting on you.”

In addition, earned-media-exposure was one of the CDC’s most powerful tools. Across the online coverage the CDC was consistently pointed to as the authoritative source for information regarding the H1N1 virus. Some examples of online headlines are: “CDC Responds to Swine Flu Outbreak Among Humans;” “CDC: Swine Flu Viruses in U.S. and Mexico Match.”

Even the industry was impressed with CDC’s response. NielsenWire (2009) had an article called “Swine Flu as Social Media Epidemic; CDC Tweets Calmly.” Jaimy Lee from PRWeek (2009) wrote an article called “CDC Uses ‘Aggressive’ Comms to Counter Pandemic.”  PRNews made the CDC a finalist in their Non Profit PR Awards for their response to the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Health Crisis.

What did the CDC do right?

1. The CDC empowered the public by using accurate and timely information, personalized messaging and two-way engagement.

2. They monitored online file sharing, blogging and discussion groups, learned what the trends and gaps where in regards to the public’s understanding of the H1N1 virus, and then adapted and improved their messaging so that these would be relevant and valued by constituents.

3. The agency established a robust social media presence and gained followers during the height of the H1N1 outbreak, followers that now continue to participate and engage with the CDC’s multiple communication platforms.

4. The CDC was prepared to handle the overwhelming level on interest about the H1N1 disease. The agency continuously updated its media kit with key messages, press briefing videos, publications, and press releases, among other tools.


From → USA

  1. A great summary of what was certainly a landmark moment in social media use for a government agency. The numbers and data you share help to make your point that this was a big success and the format of how you share key lessons from the CDC example is clear and it is easy to learn from. The only suggestion that could improve this post is to share more of your personal voice and analysis of the campaign. Why do you think the CDC was able to do this while other government agencies have not? Was it something about H1N1 in particular, or some other reason? Also, thinking ahead – how could the CDC use this moment to energize other social media efforts and is this a model you think could be replicated? As it stands, this is a great and complete recap and case study – if you can add a bit more that makes it your own take on this you can add that one missing link. (4)

  2. Can I just say what a aid to search out somebody who really is aware of what theyre speaking about on the internet. You positively know find out how to deliver a problem to mild and make it important. Extra folks must learn this and perceive this side of the story. I cant consider youre not more in style because you positively have the gift.

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