In a recent story out of Federal Computer Week, I learned that the CDC’s director of the Division of eHealth Marketing is promoting the use of social media among CDC departments and other federal agencies.

Speaking on a panel at an AFFIRM event in DC, Director Janice Nall said the CDC needs to go where the people go. If we are having conversations about quitting smoking via our mobile phones and checking blogs about the latest advice for vaccinating our children, then the CDC needs to be in both places offering its two cents (read: valid, expert opinion).

This idea rings true for many health organizations. The core of social media is community engagement. If a conversation is taking place about a topic that your organization has a stake in, then you are doing yourselves and the public a disservice by staying out of the conversation.

According to the FCW article, research indicates people get their health information from at least seven sources – and you have no way of knowing if you are one of those sources. The best shot at ensuring you have a voice in helping consumers and policymakers and others make important health decisions is by actively communicating across multiple platforms.

Traditional media and in-person communication remain extremely important. But now more than ever, social media from Twitter to smart phone applications are critical tools for disseminating information.

Last piece of sound advice: come to the table with something new! As Nall mentioned, these spaces are not simply avenues for regurgitating the information on your website. Instead, social media is a place to make an impact. Your voice in the social space should offer salient points that refer people to trusted sources (key: your own website AND others!) for more information and detail.

I am excited at the new direction that government agencies are taking with regard to social media and transparency.

From FCW: “Nall is now on special detail with the GSA’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement, which is trying to make it easier for agencies to use social media tools and citizens to provide input and to do it efficiently.” Can’t wait to see what happens…