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Story from the Field

Name of Health Department/Agency: Boston Public Health Commission
State: MA
Date Added: 01/26/2010
Themes: Communications - Priority Groups
Issue Summary: "Talkin' bout the flu." Boston gets creative with Social Media to reach young people with H1N1 prevention messages.
Description of Issue(s):

With two-thirds of Boston's population under the age of 44, and the burden of H1N1 falling deep within that demographic, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) knew it had a communication challenge. As the BPHC's Executive Director Barbara Ferrer told the Boston Globe, "young people don't watch the 6 o'clock news and they're not picking up our pamphlets."

Actions taken to address the issue(s): The strategy developed by the agency's Communication's Office to reach this group followed the age-old public health axiom of meeting people where they are. In this case, it meant meeting people through social media. Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, podcasts, and audio slideshows the BPHC spread the message of prevention far and wide. The communications team also placed micro-targeted ads on Facebook, in multiple languages, to drive traffic to its social media channels. The best example of the BPHC's creative use of social media is a music video parody, produced in-house, entitled "Talkin' bout the Flu." Featuring health department employees and interns, the video was the most watched video produced by the BPHC and has been praised as one of the best uses of social media in Massachusetts during the H1N1 response. Visit this link to see "Talkin' bout the Flu" video:
Outcomes that resulted from actions taken: More than 3,000 people have viewed "Talkin' bout the Flu," and thousands more have viewed other BPHC-produced videos in various languages covering such topics as hand washing, cough etiquette and vaccine safety concerns. "Talkin' bout the Flu" also received extensive media coverage, including a page-one Boston Globe article. Thousands more have seen the video in movie theaters and on local cable TV. "Talkin' bout the Flu" video:

The BPHC also broke new ground by providing real-time Twitter updates for wait times and vaccine status at its mass vaccination clinics (

The social media strategy dovetailed well with the BPHC's edgy display advertising campaign "Got Flu?" "Got Flu?" was also produced in-house by the BPHC's Communications Office. Visit this link to see materials from the "Got Flu?" campaign:

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