To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Way back in early July the Dutch Ministry of Health started their campaign to inform the general public of the vaccination on the Mexican flu. It’s now November and the outbreak is classified as mild. But in the meantime, on the internet, the virus is even more potent than ever.

When the government announced their campaign, they didn’t properly anticipate, or cater for, the amount of questions people would have. And so, as you would expect, with no offical help coming forward, people flocked online to find out whether or not they should get themselves, or their children, vaccinated.

However, when the general public went online to find the answers the Ministry didn’t provide, they found themselves tangled in a jungle of contradictory opinions and debate across websites, blogs and forums. The advice confused and worried the general public. And there was no sign of an official position or solution.

When interviewed recently, the Secretary of State Mr. Ab Klink from the Dutch Ministry of Health said he finds the option of a webcare team to handle online queries ‘interesting’. Hm.

He also embraced the suggestion of a journalist to make sure people can ask questions on the Ministry’s website and to do something about the website’s Google ranking. Bravo Mr. Klink.

It’s sometimes amazing how little organisations – especially when they are in public service – seem to understand the basics of social media (or is it customer service?)

Companies such United Airlines and Dell learned about engaging in online communications the hard way. Seems the Dutch Ministry of Health is now joining the ranks. Well, I guess better late than never. But it certainly won’t help their image in the eyes of the general public. And the full PR impact remains to be seen.

Honestly, it’s not that complicated. As my business partner Steve Seager said on his blog, just don’t let your introduction to social media be a Baptism of fire. Start by listening.

And if other Ministries are listening (and you really should be) here’s another tip: yes, you can reach a lot of people through mass communications. Keep doing it. But people don’t talk back in mass communications. They do on social media. So make sure you not only listen, but also participate. If your core job is educating (serving?) your public, then make sure people can ask questions on a Ministry’s blog. Provide an FAQ. It’s not rocket science.

And if people take the time to comment on your blog, answer them! if you start a Twitter channel, don’t just use it as a broadcast platform.

When you start to participate, you enable your audience to find authentic answers. They find genuine discussion. That informs. And if you do it well, they will start to do your job for you.

Surely, for a Ministry this has got to be a good deal. In short, it pays to remember unlike in mass media, you do not have control. But you have influence. Mexican influence in this case.

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  • Ing. Jose Maria Noriega C.A.S.

    Michael: With due respect the term Mexican Flu is incorrect, it was not caused by mexicans and the proper name for use by professional people like you, is Human INFLUENZA Virus A1hN1
    Kindest Regards
    Jose M Noriega

  • Michiel Gaasterland

    I stand corrected!

    Thanks Jose