Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spreading good habits

For a great example of how Web 2.0 can give a government department’s communications an enormous boost, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) PR strategy around containing the flu.

The objective is huge: to give Americans as much information as possible to help them avoid contracting and spreading the flu… without causing widespread panic.

Complementing the DHHS’s traditional communications campaign, the initiative includes a highly informative and well-organized website, www.flu.gov, which provides a tremendous amount of information about the flu, how to avoid it, and how to treat it. It also offers topical webcasts, frequently asked question (FAQ) documents on a variety of flu-related subjects, and e-cards, allowing people to send personalized messages to family and friends with advice on how to avoid contracting and spreading the flu.

They’ve even taken user-generated content a step further, with an online public service announcement (PSA) contest around preventing the spread of the flu. It’s a proven strategy we’re seeing increasingly often: get your audience to do your communicating for you. And it works.

It’s also worth noting how well DHHS is segmenting its audiences – online, and in its communications as a whole. The government wants to reach every person, in every demographic, in the country; if a certain group is left out, that group could be the centre of the next plague. PR people the world over struggle with the challenge of making scientific information understandable to the average person; but in this case, the cost of failure could be staggering.

DHHS needs to get everyone’s attention without being too scary, and then provide enough information to effectively change (or reinforce helpful) behaviours.

Communicating with the adult, literate, English-speaking population: a big job, but not so tough.

With foreign-language speakers: tougher.

With people who don’t consume mass media and don’t use the Internet: tougher again.

With children: potentially toughest. How on Earth does a government bureaucracy impress on children the importance of handwashing and coughing into the bend of the elbow? You can provide information packages to parents and to teachers; you can make posters and PSAs.

Or, you can do all that and more… and cue Elmo (on YouTube, of course).


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