The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VII No. 8 (October 2010)

Convergence and Social Media

By Amanda Johnson, Editor

As social media continues to infiltrate newsrooms, classrooms and businesses, questions of its use and effectiveness widen.

In this issue, Dr. Glen Nowak, who is in charge of news and electronic media relations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discusses the integration of social media into the agency's communication efforts.

The CDC in Atlanta is one of the largest components of the U.S. government's health initiatives. It may be most widely known as the agency in the news when there is a disease outbreak, such as the recent H1N1 flu strain. But its mission is wider, to provide people and communities with all necessary expertise, information and tools to protect their health, according to the agency's website.

The Convergence Newsletter welcomes articles and feedback from all our readers.

We are especially seeking articles for the upcoming year. Our topics issues are Newsrooms - February, International - April, Convergence and Communities - June, and Convergence in the Classroom - August. In other months we publish various submissions.

The newsletter does not exist without your articles. We call ourselves a publication of first impression that bridges academic research and professional practice, a perfect place for a description of front-line issues or for those ideas that are gestating but have not advanced to being ready for peer review. It also is perfect for those aspects of research that are compelling but that, for whatever reason, do not make it into your journal article or had to be so abbreviated that they deserve fuller treatment.

We are especially interested in work by graduate students.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog. View past newsletters at


Featured Article

What the CDC Has Learned Using Social Media To Distribute Health Messages


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

October 28-30: Online News Association Conference and Online Journalism Awards Banquet, Washington, D.C.

November 7-9: National Association of Broadcasters Futures Summit, Rancho Palos Verdes, California

November 14-17: National Communication Association Conference, San Francisco

March 4-5: AEJMC Midwinter Academic Meeting, Norman, O.K.

March 17-19: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Columbia, S.C. (paper deadline Dec. 13)

March 18-19: Media & Civil Rights History Symposium, Columbia, S.C. (paper deadline Nov. 1)

April 1: AEJMC Conference Papers Due

June 6-10: Newsplex Summer Seminar: Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism, Columbia. S.C.

June 13-17: Newsplex Summer Seminar: Convergence Software Boot Camp, Columbia, S.C.

June 15: Convergence and Society Conference Papers Due


Featured Article

What the CDC Has Learned Using Social Media To Distribute Health Messages

By Amanda Johnson, Editor

No longer confined to mainstream media channels to get across its many health-related messages, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has become a widely cited example of how to integrate social media into the communications process.

The CDC is active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and MySpace and offers an RSS feed, widgets and e-cards on its website. As of early October, the agency had 59,855 Facebook followers and 6,222 on Twitter.

The agency turned to social media because it allows for quick dissemination, reaches audiences it had struggled to reach, allows for the tailoring of heath messages in varied formats and provides interactivity, according to Dr. Glen Nowak, director of the CDC's news and electronic media.

The CDC tracks social media usage to find out what messages and channels are most engaging. However, Nowak says just viewing a message doesn't mean anything. "Just because someone sees a message on a site doesn't necessarily mean they are aware or they learned, but potentially they did," Nowak said.

The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina recently held its seventh annual I-Comm Week, which showcases the disciplines of the college's two schools, Journalism and Mass Communications and Library and Information Science, and promotes discussion of industry trends such as the use of social media and its effectiveness.

As a guest speaker, Nowak discussed how the CDC uses social media to communicate health messages ranging from the importance of hand washing to harmful virus outbreaks.

It does provide challenges, especially when it comes to interacting with nearly 60,000 Facebook followers. "It's hard to interact back, especially if you're a government agency," he said.

Nowak sat down with The Convergence Newsletter to further discuss social media.

TCN: How has social media been incorporated into CDC's media relations efforts?

Nowak: Well, I guess a couple of ways. One is we embedded links in our press releases; we use RSS feeds to get our materials to a wider media and nonmedia audience; we've used content syndication to make CDC information including stuff that's on our media relations website more attractive and available to external partners; and we've also, in terms of campaigns, added social media elements to CDC's health information campaigns.

TCN: What's the biggest impact that social media has had on the way we communicate?

Nowak: I think it's probably increased the numbers of ways and places that people get information from, and it has made it, in many respects, harder to sometimes reach audiences because there's so many choices these days and so many places they can go for information, whereas 20 or 25 years ago there were far fewer channels and they reached a lot more people. So now you have to use a lot more media to reach the same number of people.

TCN: What do you feel, as a professional, students should be learning in an effort to keep up with the converging nature of the media industry?

Nowak: Well, I guess three things. One is how to use these different media because many times it's young people that are going to be brought on board and asked to actually program - set up the Facebook page, use Twitter - so they're going to be asked to 'do.' They should also have good communication and writing skills. They should know what makes good messages, what messages need to have, what characteristics they need to have to be good. So it's not just a matter of knowing the technical elements of creating a Facebook page, but also knowing what makes a good one versus a bad one. And they should also probably know the limitations. Many people who don’t do these things on a regular basis probably don't think that there are many limitations.

TCN: What can journalists learn from the CDC's use of social media?

Nowak: That's a tough question. I'm not sure that journalists make an effort to learn anything from an organization like CDC. I think maybe the question is more along the lines of what has CDC learned it needs to do to help journalists do their job, and that gets back to what we've learned ... It's important we need to put links in our press releases, it's important to add video and access to photographs, it's important provide them with video images or spokespeople who can do television interviews. Because we're not getting those requests from TV stations, but we are getting those requests from people who have websites.

TCN: And why do you think that is?

Nowak: Well like I said, a lot of these media organizations, whether they are the local paper or whether they're the Associated Press now, are not just packaging information for their subscribers, but they're also putting information on their website and they're trying to create multimedia presentations of information because they believe that's what the audiences want - to be able to see video, as well as read about it.

TCN: What do you think lies ahead? Do you have any ideas as far as social media goes?

Nowak: I think what lies ahead is a growing number of people accessing information through portable devices. You've seen Blackberries, iPhones, iPads and other things develop slightly bigger screens than cell phones. You've seen more people use them instead cell phones or as a cell phone. That said, the screen still is much smaller than a desktop screen and so people are going to have to figure out how to present information in that kind of a portable environment. ... I think that's really probably the next immediate stage. And maybe further down the road, when you get to the number of places that are providing information, there will probably be a need for fewer places. Because when everybody can use every channel, there's going to be a need at some point for editors and gatekeepers and people to try to make sense of all these different streams and make fewer, but different, streams.

Nowak manages the Division of News and Electronic Media. Before joining the CDC in January 1999, Nowak was an associate professor of advertising and communication at the University of Georgia.


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

Online News Association Conference

Washington, D.C.

Oct. 28-30


National Association of Broadcasters Futures Summit

Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Nov. 7-9


National Communication Association Conference

San Francisco

Nov. 14-17


AEJMC Mid-Winter Academic Meeting

University of Oklahoma, Norman

March 4-5


AEJMC Southeast Colloquium

Columbia, S.C.

March 17-19


Media and Civil Rights History Symposium

Columbia, S.C.

March 18-19


AEJMC Conference Papers Due

April 1, 2011


Newsplex Summer Seminars

Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism: June 6-10

Convergence Software Boot Camp: June 13-17

Columbia. S.C.


Convergence and Society Conference Papers Due

June 15, 2011


Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor: Doug Fisher

Editor: Amanda Johnson

Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at, where you can comment on recent articles and keep up with the latest in convergence news.

There is also an RSS feed option for those who want alternative access.

View past and current issues of The Convergence Newsletter at


Licensing and Redistribution

The Convergence Newsletter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

This newsletter may be redistributed in any form - print or electronic - without edits or deletion of any content.

Creative Commons License


Submission Guidelines

The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations. Feature articles should be 750 to 1,200 words. Other articles should be 250 to 750 words; announcements and conference submissions should be no more than 200 words. Please send all articles to The Convergence Newsletter editor at along with your name, affiliation and contact information.

If you would like to post a position announcement, include a brief description of the position and a link to the complete information. All announcements should be submitted to The Convergence Newsletter editor at

The Convergence Newsletter is published monthly except January and July. Articles should be submitted by the 15th of the month to be considered for the next month's issue. Any questions should be sent to



To subscribe or edit your information, please send a message to or write to The Convergence Newsletter c/o School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208.