!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Communicating with the Public - Back to Basics

Friday, May 08, 2009

Communicating with the Public - Back to Basics

On April 29 Pete Blackshaw published a column at adage.com enumerating ways in which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is handling communications concerning the H1N1 virus with great effectiveness.

You can skip Blackshaw's opening paragraphs, which basically say that a crisis concentrates the mind, and proceed directly to the ten pointers he extracts from watching the CDC webmaster(s) in action:
  • Empower those who want to help others. "Like a growing number of newspapers and blogs, CDC does a really good job empowering site visitors to subscribe to and share its content, especially the real-time information."

  • Make search simple and accessible. I'm strongly in favor of every webmaster adopting the convention of putting the search box in the upper right corner of each page. Blackshaw's advice includes: "Repeatedly test [your search capability] with important queries and make sure it works on timely topics."

  • Syndicate the message. E.g., use RSS, widgets, Twitter links, and embeddable mobile applications that enable people on their own websites to display CDC content.

  • Communicate in multiple languages. The CDC provides information in the languages listed on this page.

  • Push mobile as a service extension, and don't make it complicated. If you'd like to get an idea of the CDC's mobile offering, without actually using a mobile device, you can have a look at this page.

  • Be simple and selective on Twitter, don't over-complicate. Blackshaw says "the CDC exercised impressive restraint in sharing only the most essential content." My own supposition is that the CDC is culturally disposed to using Twitter in a fashion that involves only tweets that are "important, timely and actionable."

  • Prime the messaging. "... by tweeting early, the CDC is helping to frame the public's perception of [the arrival of H1N1 flu] by providing rational and fact-based messaging."

  • Update the scorecard 24/7. The CDC has an H1N1 flu "scorecare" on its main H1N1 page that is updated frequently. Blackshaw points out: "It doesn't need to be sexy or flashy; it just needs to be reliable and consistent."

  • Exploit sight, sound, and motion. "The CDC is clearly making an effort to provide site visitors with multiple ways and formats to consume this serious content, from video explanations to podcasts featuring health domain experts. It looks a bit clunky at times, but the functionality is all there."

  • Ask for feedback For instance, the CDC has a "Tell us what you think about this page" button on its main H1N1 page, and there is a "How are we doing?" button on the Health-e-Card page.
One last observation I would offer is that the CDC has to make innumerable decisions concerning the reading level at which to pitch their text. The balancing act between accuracy and readability is presumably one aspect of their site on which they welcome feedback. They also try to address the problem of different levels of reading ability, and familiarity with technical terms, by presenting information separately for laypeople and clinicians.


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