Most of the time you don't want to hear "viral" and "CDC" in the same sentence. Unless we're talking in non-medical terms.
By now you've probably read the CDC's blog on surviving a zombie apocalypse. An agency spokesman told the NYT, “A typical post gets 1,000 hits. We got 10,000 (on Monday), then 30,000 on Tuesday, and then it crashed the server.”
The blog has given @CDCEmergency a big bounce on Twitter. The account is now approaching 1.3 million followers. It reportedly had just 12,000 as of Thursday.
Now that the CDC has captured our attention online, will it be able to keep it? Not unless something changes. The newly popular @CDCEmergency tweets less than once a day on average. It would to do well to look at another government agency for lessons. NASA has the most successful social media presence. Yes, there's a study to back up that claim.
NASA has been on Twitter for years. The U.S. space agency now has more than 100 feeds, according to a tally by Mashable. It has used those accounts to engage the public and humanize the space program. Tweet a question to @NASA and you'll probably get an answer. Or you can talk directly to an astronaut. The very first tweet from space was sent by @Astro_Mike in 2009. Right now, five of the people in space are also on Twitter.
NASA also offers ways to "connect and collaborate" via other websites. Its creative approach could be a matter of necessity. Most people would agree it's a good idea to prevent disease. But space is a divisive subject... even here in the newsroom. During last week's launch, some of us wondered what things would be like if interplanetary internet had been around a decade earlier. Would we have more people like this?
Maybe not. But NASA seems intent on winning over the space naysayers, by appealing to their other interests if necessary. So far it hasn't tapped into the zombie craze. But there's chess. And music. Plus photography. (That last one is a throwback to our World Report days.)
NASA is about to face something scarier than the walking dead: the end of its space shuttle program. Atlantis is currently set to launch on July 8, bringing an era of spaceflight to an end. NASA will select 150 of its Twitter followers to attend the event.