Ten Things CDC & the White House Did Well During the Zika Facebook Chat

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House and the Scary Mom blog teamed up for a Facebook chat focused on the emerging threat of the Zika virus. To make this chat successful, these organizations did a number of things well, including:

1.     Forming a strategic partnership

The three partners in this chat were perfectly matched because have the complimentary strengths needed to form a strategic partnership. The White House brings a level of formality that demonstrates how seriously the government is about responding to the Zika virus. The CDC brings subject matter experts to the discussion who represent the science behind the recommendations and lend credibility to the information. And, lastly, the Scary Mommy blog brings a gateway to the primary target audience and a trusted relationship with the individuals the government is most interested in talking to (i.e. moms and moms-to-be).

2.     Introducing the subject matter experts

By sharing the faces, names, titles and backgrounds of the government representatives during the chat’s opening, they immediately demonstrated that they intended to have a personal conversation with participants. This might seem implied in the nature of a Facebook chat but, too often, health communicators use these channels as just another way to push out information, instead of the two-way communication vehicle that the participants are hoping for.


3.     Demonstrating how they’re taking action

Beyond just getting the facts, target audiences want to know what is being done. Especially in times of crisis or uncertainty, providing very clear examples of the action being taken can provide a sense of understanding and control to those affected.  This is especially noteworthy in government communications where it’s easy for experts to hide behind blanket press releases and faceless web pages.


4.     Maintaining an informative, helpful and approachable tone

Although the CDC and White House clearly had specific resources they wanted to share, they carefully responded to each question with the content that the participant was looking for. By taking a more personal approach to content development, the scientific recommendations seemed much more relevant to the individuals participating.

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5.     Showing compassion

The fear of accepting responsibility for something outside of their control often leads the government to develop impersonal and generic messages. However, CDC and the White House weren't afraid to recognize the concern among moms and moms-to-be and show compassion for these feelings. By responding to participants’ personal situations and showing compassion for their struggles, CDC increased the credibility of their information and the likelihood that participants will follow their recommendations.

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6.     Remembering that Zika is only one factor affecting pregnant women’s health

Too often in public health, we are singularly focused on all the ways we can address a single health condition and, in turn, forget that all of our advice to a particular group, like pregnant women, can be contradictory and confusing. During the Zika chat, the information was balanced with other CDC recommendations for having a healthy pregnancy, as shown in this tweet that also encourages physical activity.


7.     Freely admitting that they don’t have all of the answers

Many believe that admitting what you don’t know will lead to a sense of distrust in the information when, actually, the opposite is true. Especially since Zika is an emerging threat, no one expects the government to have all the answers.  They do, on the other hand, expect honesty. And freely admitting what they don’t yet know is the best way to demonstrate transparency and build trust.

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8.     Encouraging action

Nearly all of the CDC and White House responses provided specific steps to take or resources to read for more information. Not only did this accomplish the government’s goal of the chat (which was likely that participants know the facts and take steps to protective themselves against Zika), but it also gave participants something productive to do with their anxiety. By giving participants specific steps to take, they are empowering them to turn their fears into action and take control of their health in a very uncertain time.

9.     Using plain language

Developing content, especially social media content, that meets plain language requirements is important for driving participants to take action. With an emerging threat like ZIka, many participants may feel higher than normal stress levels, which decrease their ability to process information. Therefore, using plain language not only makes the information available to a wider audience (i.e. those with lower average reading levels), it also increases the likelihood that all participants, regardless of their level of education, will take action on the information.


10. Providing additional ways to engage

As you’ve heard me say before, you never want anyone to feel as if they’ve reached the end of the internet. You always want to provide ways he/she can engage further. The White House and CDC both did a great job of offering ways for participants to stay engaged both in the topic and with the organizations themselves, allowing them to continue using social media to build trusted relationships with their target audiences.

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