Health With a Capital H

Our Top 10 Actionable Insights from the CDC Conference

August 13, 2009

Contributed by Kim Callinan

photo of Kim Callinan, Senior Vice President of Communications and Social Market

The Third Annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media is coming to a close. It was a fabulous couple of days of sharing and learning. Our only regret is not being able to be a part of every session that took place. The ones we attended were ripe with lessons learned that can be immediately applied to our work, and to the work of our clients.

Below is our "Top 10 Lessons Learned" from the conference. Some of the insights were "ah ha" moments, where we heard an idea that just clicked. Others were things we've been preaching all along. And still others were themes that were so prevalent throughout the conference that it would be hard to write a summary and not include them. We hope that you find them helpful.

Consistent Themes

1. Social Media is the Wave of the Future-Enter or You Will Be Left Behind. A frequent theme throughout the conference was one we agree with wholeheartedly. Social media is happening NOW. Don't wait until you have it all figured out-it will never happen. Get started now. Sanjay Koyani with FDA offered a nice summary of lessons learned from his efforts, which seemed to mirror others and our own experiences: 1) Start somewhere: Evolution versus revolution; 2) Start by just listening; 3) Start with low risk, high impact web 2.0 tools, such as Twitter; 4) Don't recreate the wheel; partner with other agencies to increase your footprint, maximize your resources, and extend your reach; 5) Listen to the wisdom of the crowds; and 6) usability test to evaluate goodness.

2. Don't Use Technology for Technology's Sake. While there was strong consensus about the importance of stepping into social media, we also heard many presenters talk about the importance of making sure that technology is supporting your social marketing objectives, rather than driving your efforts. Know the goals you are trying to achieve and then choose the best platforms to achieve them, rather than riding the technology wave and forgetting your end goal. Our own Jennifer Isenberg Blacker discussed this at length during her presentation on NIDA's social marketing efforts.

3. Don't Abandon Traditional Media. Many presenters agreed with the idea that social media is an important way to reach your audiences where they are, but you can't abandon traditional media. Social media should complement traditional outreach strategies and help extend the reach of social marketing and Health marketing programs. Think of social media as one more vehicle that should be integrated into your overall social marketing efforts.

4. People Prefer to be Rewarded Today. One of the biggest challenges with social marketing is that we are asking people to give up something now for a benefit they will get in the future. The challenge that Michael Rothschild and several other presenters offered was to think creatively about whether there was a way to offer an immediate benefit (even if it's not the ultimate end goal). Some interesting food for thought as we design future efforts.

5. Know Your Audience. And Listen. Another powerful theme was the importance of listening. Multiple people talked about the importance of developing audience-centric campaigns, a basic social marketing pillar. Others talked about the power of social media in following, learning, and understanding your audience. And Mark Weber from SAMHSA talked about the innovative approach SAMHSA is using to partner with mental Health and substance abuse groups to help influence Health care reform. What was interesting is that each of the presenters was talking about "listening" with different audiences and in different ways, reminding us that we need to be listening and not leaping through the phases of social marketing programs.

Other Insights

6. Change the Power Relationship. During a pre-conference workshop on Health literacy, Bill Smith asked the interesting question, "How come the same person who feels comfortable going into a restaurant and asking a waitress questions about a menu will not go into a doctor's office and ask questions about a surgery they are about to get?" The answer is obvious, and it offers very powerful insights as you think about the development of Health literate social marketing campaigns.

7. Judge Social Media on the Platform, Not the Content. Another presenter told a story about how he had originally judged YouTube by the content on it and determined that there was no way a government agency would ever post there. He eventually realized that it wasn't about the content, but about the platform that it offered. YouTube is now the second largest search engine, beating out Yahoo, Bing and Microsoft! This insight about judging the platform versus the content is an important one that offers helpful insights as we are evaluating other social media tools. Think about Second Life-a great platform for training and engaging, but the content is likely a turn-off to many. Is it a platform that more government agencies should be engaging with?

8. In Tough Economic Times, You Must Figure Out the ROI. Nancy Lee outlined the steps one should take to develop a return on investment model so you can compare, for example, the cost per program to help people quit smoking vs. the cost per taxpayer to pay for their Health care costs. The model was very simple to implement and offers a way to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of your program to policy makers and funders during these tough economic times.

9. Think of Government as a Platform That Provides the Content, Not the Final Product. Erin Edgerton with CDC talked about rethinking the role that government plays in disseminating information. Web 2.0 is about providing a means for people to use the government's content. The hope is that other organizations will take the content, repurpose it, make it more user-friendly, and disseminate it to larger audiences. She specifically discussed the creation of a widget used during the peanut recall that people could download to their sites. As information about product recalls changed, every site that had the widget was automatically updated. If you create useful content, people will use it.

10. Help Create a Social Marketing Association. Craig Lefebvre outlined efforts to create a global social marketing membership association. Expected launch date: June 2010. The most urgent call to action is a fundraising effort to collect $50,000 by September 1. Lefebvre encouraged conference participants to make a $300 pledge to the social marketing effort. An electronic petition calling for the creation of a worldwide social marketing organization is now available for signing at epetitions (or cut and paste:

The conference theme, "Participation Powers Prevention" also deserves attention. Many delegates and speakers asked: Now what? Where do we go from here? How does my organization or group move the needle? The answer: participation. Whether it's meeting with your city council in person, joining in the development of our nation's Health priorities through Healthy People 2020, or helping to create the new social marketing association mentioned above, this is participation. And, it can be leveraged for prevention, for healthier communities, and for a greater public dialogue.

Take the podium-what take-aways would you offer as #11, #12, etc?