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#hcsmvac is Building Immunization Awareness with Social Media

By August 1, 2011 9 Comments

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, in case you weren’t aware. A couple months ago, my friend, Dr. April Foreman, introduced me to an impromptu group of health advocates who were all interested in the practical application of social media to raise awareness around immunizations. The group has been organized using online tools, and picked a single target city with a historically low vaccination rate in Kansas City, Missouri.

The concept of a small group of people getting together to volunteer their skills for a cause was intriguing to me. Even more intriguing, however, is the idea of a virtual flash mob stemming from the small core group’s efforts. This is most commonly seen in Internet memes, and I thought it would cool to be a part of something like it for health. The group may or may not be successful at creating an immunization meme, but I figured that volunteering would be a great excuse to put some things I’ve learned, and some things I wanted to try, together to contribute.

Social Media Infrastructure

Two big benefits of using online social tools is cost and utility. In this case, the group wanted to have a single place online for all  related activities to filter through. But this space also needed to be able to capture what anybody was doing to be a part of the cause. To facilitate this, the group came up with a unique tag in #hcsmvac. HCSM stands for Health Care Social Media and is an ongoing Sunday night Twitter chat from 9pm -10pm Eastern.

Once the tag existed, the group needed a central platform for all #hcsmvac tagged content to roll through. My old boss, Greg Matthews, was big on this at Humana’s Innovation Center. The central hub can pull in tagged content from multiple social media sources and display them all in one place, allowing everybody to stay up with the group’s most recent news. In this case, the central hub also allows anybody to be recognized for creating tagged content around the cause, as well.

The team chose About.me as the hub platform, because it is free and allows you to pull in multiple feeds into a single online destination. Check it out here: http://about.me/hcsmvac

takeaway A unique tagging convention and central hub is all you need to attempt to start a movement.

My Contributions

google map I am a huge nerd when it comes to Google Maps, among other things. So one thing I knew I could contribute would be a map. Since the group had zeroed in on Kansas City, MO, I thought it would be helpful to locate all of the immunization hotspots in the city. Google Maps allows me to share this publicly once I am finished and the result can be found here: KC Vaccination Map

I got a lot of props from the group for doing this, but I found it to be insanely easy because Google has already done all of the work. All I did was perform Google searches, from within Google Maps, for key words like “immunization” or “vaccine” in Kansas City, MO. When you click on one of the results, on the map, an information box will pop up giving you the option to save the destination to one of your maps. Clicking “Save to Map” will open up a drop down box that allows you to select one of your maps. Clicking “Save” saves it to the map you’ve created and allows you to do it again for the next destination. That’s it. Easy, huh?

qr code Now that we had a map of destinations, and an associated link, we needed a way for people to access the map if they weren’t near their computers. The idea of making posters that linked to the vaccination map via QR Code seemed like the way to go… but how is this possible?

It turns out that making your own QR Code is easy, as well, again with Google. The first step is to head over to goo.gl, which is a URL shortener/QR Code Generator. Paste your link into the box and click “Shorten.” Then look down and click on “Details” for the URL you just created. This will lead you to an analytics page that also contains your QR Code. Right click the QR Code to save it to your desktop and now you have a QR Code that you can put on things like…

posters As a kid growing up, I dreaded getting shots. I have my own kids now, and they dread getting shots. Once I turned 21, however, the word shots took on a whole new meaning. When Dr. Foreman was first telling me about #hcsmvac, we both got a laugh out of the negative and positive connotations associated with the word shots, depending on how old you are… I thought it would be funny to make a simple poster about “Doing Shots” that could go up in bars around Kansas City, MO, and created one:

Building on the concept of shots, last week I followed this excellent photoshop tutorial to create the poster at the top of this post, because I thought it would look cool.

Now that you know about #hcsmvac, how can you use social media to contribute and spread the word?


  • It is truly an honor to work with the #hcsmvac-ers…I have learned so much about the marriage of technology and do-good-ery!

  • I love this initiative … such a great example of taking a “surround-sound” approach to a population-level health initiative. And on a shoestring budget, no less. Congrats to April, Chris and the #hcsmvac team.

  • Carmen Gonzalez says:

    As usual, Chris your practical smarts and compassionate heart were just the cure we needed for this project! Thanks for all your help with this. I hope it is adopted by others in the public health space. So elegant, so simple, so powerful!

    Best regards,

  • Carmen Gonzalez says:

    Oh, and our HCSMVAC chats are on Saturday at 8am PT. Not to be confused with the HCSM chats run by the talented @danamlewis on Sunday nights at 6pm PT.

  • Chris Hall says:

    Thanks for the comments all. 🙂

  • What a great initiative. I also really love the photo with the shot and world, great visual. The happy hour graphic is great. I think that just as visuals are a great way to teach social media can do wonders for the medical industry and getting the word out. The fact that is so easy to get online and go to a central area/site where you can get the info you need is so much easier than having to go to an actual building/site. This is great.

  • Health-Today says:

    It is truly an honor to work with the #hcsmvac-ers…I have learned so much about the marriage of technology and do-good-ery!

  • Awesome poster! I think that’s a great idea to get the word out in a very clever way. I am involved in the Care Home Franchise world and we work a lot with vaccinations so this was fun to see. Thanks for sharing!

  • […] I volunteered to put some posters together during Vaccination Awareness month this year as part of the #hcsmvac crew and I had a pretty good time of it. I followed a photoshop tutorial to make one design and attached a Google Map to a QR code for the other design. You can get the full story and find out how to do it yourself by clicking here. […]