Here is your challenge. Create a process that involves millions of people worldwide. Then to make things extra interesting throw in a dash of global politics for good measure. What would you do?
For the Health and Human Services Department the challenge was to involve multiple stakeholders in the conversation about pandemic flu. HSS took a step into social media and launched a blog summit through its newly created Pandemic Leadership Blog. Their goal is to provide a forum for open discussions that will help shape how best to communicate the critical need for preparedness.
The Pandemic Leadership blog is a short-term campaign blog where discussions and debates will take place for five weeks ending on June 27th. Sixteen business, healthcare, faith-based and community leaders were invited to particiapte in a five-week Blog Summit.
I was delighted to see the Daily Fix’s own Nedra Klein Weinreich among the prestigious experts. Nedra brings a wealth of social marketing and social media marketing experience to the conversation. Her first post addresses both topics and ask critical questions including how to best use social media in times of a public healthcare crisis.
I was curious about how a government agency came to include social media as part of its communication outreach. Nedra graciously explained some of the back-story of Pandemic Leadership Blog in an email exchange.
Toby: Who was behind the idea of using blogs to create a dialogue with the public about the pandemic flu?
Nedra: I’ve been impressed with the way HHS has been dipping its toe into the water with social media. I suspect that the team at Ogilvy, which has been working with HHS on getting the word out about pandemic flu preparedness, convinced the powers that be over there that blogs are a new way to engage their constituents and key advocates in a conversation about this issue. There is already a lot going on in blogs and wikis related to pandemic flu information and discussions, so it makes sense to capitalize on this existing base of people to get the ball rolling. I know they are also hoping to engage people who are not already knowledgeable about the issue.
Toby: In addition to creativity, it takes a certain amount of courage to launch a public blog on any subject but the pandemic flu issue seems like it might be especially risky. How/where/why did the HSS find the chutzpah?
Nedra: You’re right that it is somewhat risky, given that HHS is not limiting the blogging to its own employees, and is not controlling the content of the blogs at all. Although the Secretary of Health & Human Services, Michael Leavitt, is contributing posts, the rest of the bloggers have no affiliation with the government, and may even (gasp!) say things that are critical of the administration’s policies or actions.
I have no doubt that HHS had a hard time at first agreeing to let the bloggers post directly without any intervening approval process, but to their great credit there is no moderation of our posts at all (though comments are moderated to prevent spam, offensive language and personal attacks). I don’t know where the courage came from, but I applaud their willingness to let the chips fall where they may.
Toby: How is the qualitative information being data mined and is a formal report of the feedback going to be produced?
Nedra:I don’t know what their specific plan is, but with more than 400 content-packed comments after just the first week, I sure hope they will be doing some sort of analysis to make sure the great ideas don’t get lost. They are producing a metrics report to take a look at who has been visiting the blog, but a qualitative analysis is absolutely critical as well. Many of the people who are leaving comments are those who have been working on and thinking about this issue for a long time (professionals and private citizens), and their input is extremely valuable.
Toby: What is your role, and the other bloggers, other than to generate content?
Nedra: Many of the bloggers represent particular constituencies (e.g., business, nurses, public health professionals, nonprofits), and the hope is that the bloggers will use their networks to get the word out and bring in more diverse voices to the conversation on the blog. The blog is also an adjunct to a one-day summit that will be happening in Washington, DC, and it allows HHS to get the discussion going prior to the event and continue it afterwards.
Toby: How will Michael Leavitt, Secretary, U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services join in on the conversation?
Nedra: So far Secretary Leavitt has written the introductory blog post, and he will be posting each week as well. I don’t know if he has left any comments on other people’s posts, but William Raub, the Science Advisor to the Secretary, and Suzanne DeFrancis, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, both posted comments to the blog so far. So HHS is definitely engaged in the process.