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As a previous employee of the Danish National Board of Health I was a few years ago involved in the development of the new website. The website had to live up to the new possibilities of web 2.0. However, the inclusion of social web media and dialogue functions were, after many discussions, not made part of the website. The arguments were among others that entering into an online public dialogue with the citizens would potentially lead to problems on responding to individual cases and making personal sensitive data publicly available. I wondered whether these arguments were valid enough to disregard completely the social dimension. Today, I believe that there are many ways to make use of social web media functions also on a governmental website. Both to inform the public, to share new knowledge and to detect and respond to public needs.

That it can be done is the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and example of through their presence on Twitter, Facebook and their blog “Public Health Matters”. The blog is updated almost daily and the comments function actively used. The posts are related to current public health issues such as hurricanes, outbreaks of infectious diseases etc. A post that have initiated many comments is a post titled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  Framed as an emergency preparedness guide in the event a Zombie Apocalypse the post informs of basic disaster preparedness measures the public can take and explains the role of CDC in emergency situations. An alternative way of getting a public health message across. Perhaps it is exactly the more informal format of the blog that makes such an approach possible.

Another example of a public health institution actively using social media is the Health Council of Canada. Their blog is used to highlight activities of the council, new reports and activities from various Canadian health initiatives. The initiation and findings from research studies such as population surveys are also presented and commented on the blog. In addition, the blog is used as a forum for the council to comment on their own activities, thus the chair of the council have posts on the blog, as does the lead persons of various departments.

The Danish National Board of Health are still not online in the 2.0 sense. Searching twitter and Facebook nothing pops up. Only for specific health prevention campaigns (primarily targeted young people) is Facebook actively used. The National Institute of Public Health are equally absent when it comes to blogs, social networks etc. This is a shame I think. Lots of interesting public health research is going on and reaching beyond the traditional communication platforms is both relevant and necessary. It is after all public health we are talking about. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through zombies that the issues are being communicated, but perhaps CDC’s Zombies could provide some good inspiration.

Any hints to public health institutions using social media to communicate with the public are welcome. And communicating public health research inparticular.