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Communications Technology in Public Health

By Sonja Noring, M.A.

January 10, 2012

The AIDS Institute of the New York State Department of Health, in partnership with, held its second Forum on social media and HIV/STIs -- which now qualifies as an annual event -- on December 8, 2011.

This year, the Forum "Social Media: Going Viral Against HIV and STIs" was subtitled "Communications Technology in Public Health" since it took a broad view of social media in the context of health communications, focusing on public health messaging and consumer engagement.

The Forum was moderated by Miguel Gomez, Director of, Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Gomez's extensive experience using video podcasting, administering the blog, and advocating for the use of social media and new technologies in relation to HIV/AIDS stimulated thought-provoking conversation. He served as a great resource to participants.

L-R: Humberto Cruz, AIDS Institute Director; Dr. Cheryl Smith, AIDS Institute Associate Medical Director; Miguel Gomez, Director,

L-R: Humberto Cruz, AIDS Institute Director; Dr. Cheryl Smith, AIDS Institute Associate Medical Director; Miguel Gomez, Director,

Dr. William Smith, Editor of Social Marketing Quarterly, gave Forum attendees "Lessons from 30 Years of Social Marketing," the subtitle of his presentation on "Why 'Cool' Isn't Enough." Rather than just offering information, said Dr. Smith, it's critical to tell a persuasive, engaging story that resonates with the intended audience and offers a solution to a problem they wish to solve. Health professionals should also help to make the desired choices doable and fun.

Dr. Punam Keller, The Charles Henry Jones Third Century Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, reviewed her research on communication models that improve health outcomes. Titled "Health Behavior Change: Persuasive Communication and Choice Architecture," her presentation discussed structuring health messages so that the desired choice has clear advantages and reinforces the individual's sense of control. Compared to opt in/opt out strategies and monetary incentives, the "enhanced active choice" model produces substantially greater compliance. Her research is the basis for the CDC's new online message development tool, called "Message Works," which will debut in April 2012.

The third speaker, Jessica Faye Carter, JD, CEO of the Heta Corporation, spoke on "Social Media Strategies to Engage Multicultural Consumers," outlining ways to refine thinking about race/ethnicity and culture in order to better design messages for multicultural individuals and populations.

More information on the 2011 Forum and other AIDS Institute social media activities is available at You can also watch a webcast from the event here.

Sonja Noring, M.A., is from the Office of the Medical Director, AIDS Institute, New York State Department of Health.

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