CDC Social Business Case Study

Ann Aikin, Social Media Team Leader, Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

CDC Social Business Case Study: CDC logoThe CDC has been a pioneer for social networking and media for the past several years. They understood that Web 2.0 tools and behaviors were well suited to their mission: to deliver accurate information to the public about infectious diseases, thereby promoting health. Social networking may be ideal because people naturally share information about health threats, and social tools enable sharing quickly and at low cost. Ann Aikin had these highlights of the CDC’s current initiatives and future plans.


The CDC’s key mission and budget limitations lead to a key role for social networking tools: by enabling the public to share accurate information about health, they aim to prevent disease outbreaks or lesson infections and epidemics by having knowledgeable people. I first covered the CDC in 2008.

Social Networking Highlights

  • SNC-logo-smPeople will surprise you when you strike a nerve; the CDC videos on H1N1 went viral on YouTube, leading to hundreds of thousands of viewings. The same videos on our site generated far less attention.
  • “Feel good” messages have a significant impact on people. Ann cited a study that found that 15% of people feel better if they receive “good news” from someone they know. Also, 9.8% of people feel better when receiving such news via a friend of a friend. Lastly, 5.6% will be encouraged by a friend of a friend of a friend. Clearly, network effects can have a very positive impact.
  • Most people have a “close network” of 8-12 people and “broad networks” of hundreds to thousands of people.
  • The CDC goes to where the people are, and they address Americans via MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and numerous niche sites like Cafemom. iTunes helps them deliver podcasts on epidemics and other threats.
  • Twitter is amazing for spreading messages quickly and for listening to what people are saying; people really rally around emergencies. #swineflu was the #4 trending topic of 2009.
  • The CDC reaches out to all demographics, including children. They have educational games and programs like Whyville in which they model desired behavior for children. They answer kids’ questions and have special events like vaccination celebrations.
  • Another of their biggest hits has been e-cards, which people send to each other.
  • They held a contest and challenged people to create the best video public service announcements for various health issues.
  • Some other interesting sites with which they collaborate are Daily Strength (peer-to-peer community) and Sermo (physician community).
  • Widgets enable people to distribute CDC information via their websites; obviously, you need to have relevant information and simple instructions to make this work. Encourage people to syndicate your data; make it fun and easy.
  • Don’t get hung up on “quality”; sometimes, having the right information at the right time can deliver huge value. One CDC video was terrible, but it saw explosive activity on YouTube because the information was available at the right time.
  • Ann also shared these statistics trove on diseases and this summary of CDC’s social media initiatives.

Parting Shots

  • Ann shared numerous best practices, and I encourage you to spend some time with the links above.
  • CDC’s experience shows how powerful social business can be when the organization is aligned with peer-to-peer sharing (word of mouth). Moreover, budget limits and their public focus compel them to rely people to educate each other with CDC information.

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