Get Your #PHNerd On, Yo

Keep Calm, and #Hashtag!Last week we talked about building social networking relationships and how, in the new media paradigm, people want to feel like they’re an actual part of a message, not just the target of one. Encouraging participation and interaction is a big way to include people in the message itself.

This phenomenon has not been lost on the good people at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who wanted to give every one of you a chance to be part of the public health movement, whether you’re a professional or just interested in the health of your own community, and they did it with the #PHNerd hashtag. We’re highlighting it this week as a great example in microblogging for public health.

How does a hashtag create a community? Well, community is an intrinsic part of the hashtag’s history. The first hashtag was sent out in 2007 on Twitter, pioneered by users themselves, which Twitter later adopted; now almost any social networking service that offers microblogging or status updates supports some form of them. Essentially what it does is give you a (hopefully) unique keyword that can be searched for. Stick a hash sign (#) in front of the meaningful keyword you’ve selected and presto, you’ve got a hashtag! Anyone can just start using it and be a part, and because the unique keyword collates all these related posts together, it makes them appear to be part of a larger whole.

You can see this in action on for the #PHNerd hashtag right now by watching its live Twitter search. Some custom clients such as TweetDeck will even display them as first-class timelines, as if they were their own organically grown channel. Tools like these are really useful for monitoring the reach and impact of these sorts of campaigns, by the way.

But anybody can create a hashtag. What makes this one special is what the CDC put along with it: fun quips and shareable graphics that you can attach to your tweets and posts, and even periodic quizzes like this one:

Let’s look at what the entire campaign accomplishes:

  • Memorable branding: check! That’s a pretty easy hashtag to remember, and instantly attracts the eye. Because nerds, amirite?
  • Comprehensive reach: check! Even though we’re primarily interested in typical microblogging sites like Twitter in this post, the CDC campaign also covers the posts you make to Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, all of which have short status update capability as well. It’s a great way to get people connected even across different services.
  • Participatory and inclusive: check! The barrier to entry is low and specifically embraces the non-professional as well as the usual suspects. Anyone with even a casual interest can jump right in. The CDC elegantly communicates that you don’t need an MPH to be a public health geek (and in fact we need more non-MPHs and community members to be informed about public health as well!).
  • Instant content anyone can use: check! What good is being part of something if you feel you don’t know enough to contribute to it? The campaign has that covered too, as we saw above, with quizzes and graphics anyone can stick on a tweet or post.

Is there one thing the CDC didn’t do? Sadly, yes: so far not everything has apparently been updated for 2015, and while hashtags don’t get stale, the additional content the CDC provided definitely can. We hope that oversight will be corrected soon, because we think that the CDC #PHNerd campaign is a great example of microblogging for public health. When all of us are better informed about the issue, then consideration for the public’s health can truly be said to be part of the way we live our lives, and the best way to get people informed is to get them interested. We’re confident this campaign is already doing just that and we look forward to seeing more from our friends at the CDC.

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4 thoughts on “Get Your #PHNerd On, Yo

  1. Great idea to refer back to your previous week for your followers, or just to get more people back to your previous content. This was a really well-done post. I like the background on how Twitter creates a community and how that follows into making everyone part of a public health community and how the CDC has done that to engage a broad audience that works across different social media platforms. Being a nerd is now “chic” and they have used that in the campaign to encourage everyone to acquire more health knowledge. You point out the why this works well in general, which is helpful for those who want to take the lessons of this model and make them work for their organization. I really enjoyed reading this and found it very useful.

  2. Great example! It was fun to follow the different positive effects the CDC could have with this particular campaign. Always room for improvement so I appreciated that you ended with things that they aren’t doing so well. For an organization to be successful in the social media world follow-up and maintaining that “current” information is very important. It may have helped to contrast this with other campaigns that did pieces well and not so well, for viewers who are not using micro-blogging more that one example could be helpful even if it was just a link to a few others that are doing well in each area

  3. Great content in your blog this week! I like how you tied in your reader to previous blogs and built upon the foundation you already created. Nice use of images as well. You did an excellent job of using your authentic voice while also reaching your audience at an appropriate level, in the case that they are new to blogging! Great analysis of the campaign and you make it easier to read with the bullets. I really enjoy reading your blog posts.

  4. Awesome post! I saw #PHNerd in action while researching, but you really broke it down in this post very well. I like that you started with a brief history and description of the function of hashtags; this put the whole post in context for me. Also liked that you bulleted the accomplishments, but ended with something they need to improve on. It helps to see that even an organization like the CDC doesn’t do it all perfectly, but that there are valuable lessons for the smaller groups out there to be gained from reviewing the #PHNerd campaign.

    I thought I saw somewhere, but now can no longer find so may be making it up, that the campaign also has physical things like bumper stickers that some people have and/or made. If so, that is cool. If not, I think they should consider doing it. I think one thing we need to figure out how to do is have more crossover between the corporeal world with the social media world, which would aid in full circle messaging/marketing.

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