Primary Navigation for the CDC Website
CDC en Español


Director's Blog

Photo: NCHM Director Jay Bernhardt

Health Marketing Musings
from Jay M. Bernhardt, PhD, MPH


On this page:

Wikipedia describes a social network as "a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission, or airline routes. The resulting structures are often very complex."

Social networks are not new. Humans have probably organized into social networks around the time we began walking upright, or sometime soon thereafter. Scholarship and analysis on social networks are not new either. A quick search for social-networks on Google Scholar reveals about 97,000 listings going back decades.

What is new and novel in the world of social networks, however, are "social network services," made possible by the internet and the countless applications and sites that connect people with each other electronically. Online social network services like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, are wildly popular and used daily by millions of people to share information within networks of friends and acquaintances. CDC believes social networks offer great potential to protect health when accurate and relevant information is shared between trusted peers to support positive and healthy decision making. For this reason, CDC has its own MySpace page and maintains a dialogue with health-oriented sites like Sermo, Daily Strength, and Patients Like Me.

A health-related social network service that I have personally used is CaringBridge, a nonprofit web service that connects family and friends during a critical illness, treatment, or recovery. It was founded in 1997 by Sona Mehring, who had a friend who had a life-threatening pregnancy. To keep family and friends informed, she created a website so updates could be more easily shared, without the disruption and delay of phone calls or emails. Realizing the enormous potential of using electronic communication so family and friends across the world could share information with loved ones, Sona and her colleagues created CaringBridge so that others could benefit from this social network.

My own experience with CaringBridge started with a close friend undergoing treatment for cancer. She created a CaringBridge site to describe her condition and treatment, share stories about her experience, and even upload photos. Each time she would post new information in her online journal, an email would automatically be sent to all her subscribers with a link back to the page. But the most inspiring part of the site is the guestbook where all her loved ones (far too many to count) regularly post words of support, encouragement, and love. Reading these heartfelt comments deeply affects me emotionally. I can only imaging how great they must make her feel.

According to statistics published on the site, 100,000 families have created free, personalized CaringBridge websites. There have been more than half a billion visits by families and friends and more than 15 million guestbook messages of hope and encouragement. What CaringBridge lacks in the bells and whistles of more sophisticated, higher-budget social network site, they make up for in ease of use, remaining advertisement-free, and advancing their charitable, non-profit mission to help connect people around the world during difficult times.

CDC recently formed a collaborative partnership with CaringBridge to extend the reach and accessibility of CDC's science-based health information to millions of CaringBridge users. By syndicating the "A-Z" listing of hundreds of different health topics from, CaringBridge users can now connect to CDC's credible online health messages when looking for health information on the site. CaringBridge founder Sona Mehring observed, "When families and friends are trying to support someone undergoing medical treatment, one of their most important needs, beyond emotional support, is access to trusted medical information about a specific disease or condition that their loved one may be coping with. Our new partnership with CDC does just that, providing 24–hour, online access to its extensive medical libraries. The CDC is consistently identified as a highly trusted source of medical information."

Social network services such as CaringBridge show the enormous power of bringing people together to share information and experiences that can make us all healthier, safer, and supported. Like my friend who found CaringBridge a critical aspect of her successful cancer treatment, I encourage you to share it with your friends and loved ones, and to explore ways social network services can further our goal of bringing health information and interventions to people where, when, and how they need it to inform healthy decisions.

Posted by Jay on Monday, July 7, 2008 at 3:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment

Quote IconJay,

It's terrific to see the kinds of partnerships and dialogues that CDC is forming with Health 2.0 entities from CaringBridge to Sermo. Health professionals in prevention, teaching and research all struggle with providing people with information in their time of need—getting them the right information, or the right care, at the right time. Anything we can do to make that easier helps. Increasingly, with regard to health behavior and behavior change, I'm noticing that those on the receiving end are saying, don't tell me what I need to know, tell me what I need to do. So to the extent we can be very pragmatic and tactical in the provision of health-related information, I think we will further extend the potency of social networks as a vehicle for improving health and health care.

Sarah M. Greene, MPH
Research Associate
Group Health Center for Health Studies
Seattle, WA

Received from Sarah Greene on Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 8:14pm ETCommentComment

Quote IconJay,

CaringBridge looks like a great resource. I did not know about it before. Thanks.

Theresa Ann Sipe, PhD, MPH, CNM, RN
Statistician, Community Guide
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

Received from Theresa Ann Sipe on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 at 8:47am ETCommentComment

Quote IconJay,

In addition to content publication, the CDC can also partner with social networks to polls members. As a social network, has recently added a poll and survey component to offer CDC the ability to gather evidence on opinions and awareness issues. Collaborations with social networks need not end there. Social networks also have extensive mailing lists which can broadcast e-newsletters at the touch of a button. The sky's the limit in terms of information dissemination!

Lee Weber
Community Director - TOGETHER, we make good medicine.

Received from Lee Weber on Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 9:14am ETCommentComment


To help prepare for National HIV Testing Day (June 27, 2008), is sponsoring a Webinar for Bloggers (sometimes called a 'blogginar') on Tuesday, June 17th at 2:00pm eastern time. Beginning with a similar webinar last year, has been communicating directly with bloggers so they can help encourage their readers to get tested. Since one in four Americans living with HIV is unaware of having it, this effort is a crucial piece of protecting and improving the health of people in the US. It also is an excellent example how Web 2.0 strategies can be used to impact health.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Friday, June 13, 2008 at 10:00am ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


I've asked Melinda Frost, former lead for NCHM's Global Communication and Marketing team, to write a guest blog for this month's edition of Health Marketing Musings. Since early November, Melinda has served in a unique capacity for our Center. She works under the US Embassy in Beijing, China as the first US CDC health communications officer placed overseas. One of her roles is to determine how US CDC can best partner with China's Ministry of Health to increase their ability to deliver tailored, culturally appropriate health information to affected populations at national and sub-national levels. – Jay Bernhardt

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Melinda Frost, MA, MPH on Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 12:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


The most important platform in the world for collecting and delivering targeted and tailored health information during the first half of the 21st Century will be mobile phones. Mobile phones and integrated wireless devices will revolutionize the practice of public health and touch billions of lives around the world.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 12:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions, as defined by the National Library of Medicine and as used in Healthy People 2010. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), more than 77 million adults in the US demonstrate basic or below basic health literacy skills.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 11:00am ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


World AIDS Day. Take the test. Take control. www.hivtest.orgOn December 1, 2007, the world will collectively observe World AIDS Day. Since 1988, World AIDS Day has provided an important opportunity for governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to generate greater public awareness of the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to re-energize those fighting against it. Worldwide, HIV prevalence—the percentage of people living with HIV—has leveled off and the number of new infections dropped in 2007. However, AIDS remains among the leading causes of death around the world and continues to be the primary cause of death in Africa. In 2007, an estimated 2.1 million died of AIDS.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Friday, November 30, 2007 at 3:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


On Saturday October 19, I attended part of the first CONNECT. Public Relations & Social Media Conference hosted by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The agenda included renowned PR professionals (or "Rock Stars" as accurately described by Dr. Kaye Sweetser) who discussed cutting-edge social media techniques and how they can be used in PR and marketing. Many thanks to UGA for organizing and including me in this event. I invite you to browse the CONNECT blog, where you can find audio, blogs, links, twitter content, podcasts, photos and more from the conference.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Monday, October 29, 2007 at 12:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


This is an exciting time to be working in health communication, marketing, and media. While each of these areas has roots in distinct disciplines, what brings us together is our shared belief that customers (however defined) matter most, information is powerful, and protecting and promoting people's health is a noble cause worth fighting for.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 2:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


One of the mainstays of health marketing is to designate a day (or week or month) to a public health issue and use that day and the time leading up to it to raise awareness and promote health messages. Unfortunately, this strategy has become so commonplace that nearly every week has one, if not several, worthwhile observances associated with it, thereby reducing the likelihood of getting attention among the many competing stories appearing in the media. Nonetheless, some "days" are particularly important and well worth our attention and efforts.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 11:00am ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


Last week I attended a morning panel presentation at Emory University's Goizueta Business School featuring Richard Edelman, Chairman and CEO of Edelman. Richard discussed the 2007 Edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of influentials from 18 countries and their perceptions of trust and credibility in different organizational sectors and information sources.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by Jay on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 5:00pm ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


When I came to CDC in August 2005, I brought with me one major goal: to improve the CDC website. I am proud to say that as of April 19, 2007, we have accomplished this goal with the launch of the new homepage and top-level navigation pages. Not that the old site was that bad compared to some others (who will remain nameless), but it certainly wasn't nearly as good as it could be. The design of the new site is based on science, best practices, and evidence-based research, like everything else we do at the CDC and the National Center for Health Marketing.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay on Thursday, April 19, 2007 at 9:00am ETQuote iconSubmit a comment


Before I share my topic for this blog, I have an admission to make. I am a lousy blogger. This blog entry is long overdue. I deeply believe in blogging and the incredible power of personal narrative, but am having a hard time keeping it fresh. I invite suggestions from veteran bloggers to let me know how they manage to do their day jobs and still keep their blog novel.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 5:00 PM on Monday, March 5, 2007Quote iconSubmit a comment


Congratulations and thanks are due to Dimitry Kruglyak from the Medical Blog Network (, who organized and recently hosted the first Healthcare Blogging Summit in Washington, DC as part of Consumer Health World. I was honored to speak at the Summit and share the dais with many accomplished innovators and leaders in the world of health-related blogging. A number of participants and attendees have written about the Summit and you can find their feedback here:

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 12:00 PM on Thursday, December 28, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment


It was great seeing old colleagues and meeting new innovators in Toronto recently at the 11th World Congress on Internet in Medicine (MedNet) ( I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the conference (PDF Icon 12 pages/1.72 MB) and today's blog will offer a brief synopsis of my remarks.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, November 14, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment


For the last several weeks, CDC has been actively engaged leading the public health response to the E. coli outbreak associated with fresh spinach that has sickened more than 150 people and may have claimed three lives. When public health emergencies or outbreaks occur, the CDC activates the Director's Emergency Operation Center (DEOC) [here is a photo of the DEOC]. One of the core components of the DEOC is the Joint Information Center (JIC) led by the Emergency Communication System (ECS), which is an agency wide risk communication activity led by the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM). [Note: CDC loves its acronyms!] The ECS is an amazing group of CDC professionals who spring into action when needed and work tirelessly, including nights and weekends, to help save and protect countless lives through health and risk communication targeted at professionals and the public. Watching the dedicated and professional response of the DEOC and the ECS in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year was truly inspiring.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, October 11, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment


It is my pleasure to welcome our first "guest blogger" to health marketing musings. The following remarks are from my colleague Dan Rutz, MPH, the Associate Director of Communication Science from the CDC National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases (NCPDCID). He shares interesting and important observations about the frailty of our human experience and our communication science, and he calls for strengthening both. As always, reader comments are welcome and encouraged.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Dan Rutz at 2:10 PM on Friday, September 8, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment


More than any other question, the one I am most frequently asked has to do with the name of our center at CDC, the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM): "What is health marketing?" Other common questions include "What is the difference between health communication and health marketing?" "Is it the same thing as social marketing?" and "Why is CDC trying to change the name of our field?!?" In this, my second blog entry, I'll try to answer some of these questions and share my thoughts on the sensitive issue of disciplinary names and identities.

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 3:45 PM on Tuesday, August 22, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment


Legendary newsman Daniel Schorr once observed, "If you don't exist in the media, for all practical purposes, you don't exist." The same can be said today for the web—if you don't have an online presence, and if you don't show up in Google, for all practical purposes, you don't exist. Therefore, I'm happy to announce that the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM) at the CDC finally exists!

Read the rest of the blog and comments

Posted by: Jay at 3:45 PM on Thursday, July 13, 2006Quote iconSubmit a comment




Dr. Jay M. Bernhardt is the Director of the National Center for Health Marketing at the CDC. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of its authors and may not represent the official positions of the Centers for Disease Control or the Department of Health and Human Services.

Navigation for Health Marketing

• Health Marketing

Additional Navigation for the CDC Website

“Safer Healthier People”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
Public Inquiries: (404) 498-1515  •  (800) 311-3435