CDC’s Top Lessons Learned from Using Social Media

by Gustavo Torrez

Program Manager 

CDC’s Top Lessons Learned from Using Social Media

Lately I have been ask a lot about Social Media strategies,  so I wanted to share a resourced titled The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit, created by CDC. The Toolkit provided an excellent overview to help you get started using social media, as well as developing governance to determine which social media channels are best to meet your objectives. Additionally, the toolkit includes the use of blogs, video-sharing sites as well as mobile applications. Although this document has been created for a beginner audience, there are parts where even intermediate level folks would still find it useful.

Something that I think is useful to every audience is their Lessons Learned. Over the last four years, the CDC social media team has learned a number of lessons which I have outlined to share with you below:

 1. Make Strategic Choices and Understand the Level of Effort

Be strategic and follow demographic and user data to make choices based on audience, communications objectives, and key messages. Be sure to assess the level of effort needed to maintain these channels and ensure you have the necessary time and effort to commit to your efforts. Often, the resources needed to start and maintain social media projects are different than traditional communication efforts.

2. Go Where the People Are

Social media can help reach people where they are—millions of people use social media and spend a lot of time in these spaces learning, sharing, and interacting. The popularity of key social media sites can be assessed by reviewing user statistics and demographics. Additionally, there are several niche social networking sites that target specific groups, like 4 moms, physicians, or racial and ethnic groups, or sites that focus on a particular topic like travel or health.

3. Adopt Low‐Risk Tools First  

If you are starting out and finding resistance to using social media among your communication team or stakeholders, it may be helpful to first adopt low‐risk solutions and later build on your successes. Products such as podcasts, videos, and widgets are easily downloadable, and can be accessed from partner sites and posted on your website.

4. Make Sure Messages Are Science‐based

As with any effective health communication, messages developed for dissemination through social media channels should be accurate, consistent, and science‐based.

5. Create Portable Content

Develop portable content—such as widgets and online videos—that can easily extend reach beyond your website to provide credible, timely, and accurate content for partners and   others who want to help spread your health messages.

6. Facilitate Viral Information Sharing

Make it easy for people to share your messages and become health advocates. This can be accomplished by using social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube that encourage sharing among users, or you can use tools with sharing features, like widgets or eCards.

7. Encourage Participation

Social media allows for the tailoring of messages to help express empathy and acknowledge concern, promote action, and listen to what people are saying about health‐related topics in your community. Two‐way conversations can foster meaningful communication with your audiences that can help to facilitate relationships, sharing, and interaction.

8. Leverage Networks

Social media allows people to easily establish networks that they can access on a regular basis. For example, Facebook reports the average Facebook user has 130 friends, or a network of 130 people with whom they can easily share information, and may choose to share your health messages (Facebook. 2010). By strategically leveraging these established networks you can facilitate information sharing and in turn, expand the reach of your message.

9. Provide Multiple Formats

Providing messages in multiple formats increases accessibility, reinforces messages, and gives people different ways to interact with your content based on their level of engagement and access to media.

10. Consider Mobile Phones

Over ninety percent of adults in America subscribe to mobile services. Therefore, mobile technologies such as text messaging and mobile websites offer an opportunity to rapidly reach a large percentage of your audience members no matter where they are.

11. Set Realistic Goals

Social media can raise awareness, increase a user’s knowledge of an issue, change attitudes, and prompt behavior change in dynamic, personalized, and participatory ways. However, like traditional communication, social media alone may not be able to meet all of your communication goals or address all of the target audiences’ needs.  Set your goals accordingly.

12. Learn from Metrics and Evaluate Your Efforts

Digital communications offer many metrics that you can use to focus and improve your communications efforts. Metrics can help you to report usage, monitor trends, and gauge the success of specific promotions or outreach efforts. Beyond simple metrics, social media efforts can also be evaluated by measuring the use of information, engagement, and participation of people with your content, and its health impact.  Monitoring trends and discussions on social media networks can also be a valuable way to better understand current interest, knowledge levels, and potential misunderstandings or myths about your health topic.


The Entire toolkit can be viewed by clicking here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: