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The White House and WebMD

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, July 6 2010

As new-media friendly as the Obama White House has been, they haven't always been all that eager to mix it up in the political blogosphere, navigating that world for advantage and community-building. They've tried that route, in fits and starts, to be sure. But we've seen over the first year and a half of the Obama presidency a sort of complementary strategic approach to engaging with the online world by avoiding the more political, or at least more partisan parts of it: figuring out what are the solid brands who are recognized as online conveners of public opinion, and piggybacking on that brand to get access to their audiences.

We saw it, for example, with how HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took online questions on the impact of health care reform on families in December in partnership with the women-focused BlogHer blogging community. In May, bloggers from the popular Consumerist blog, affiliated with Consumers Union, got an invite to the White House to discuss credit card reform with White House economist Austen Goolsbee. The hope, on the White House's part, is that by going straight-after issue-focused online communities, they can (a) avoid some of the high-drama of the political blogosphere and (b) take advantage of the work those communities have done to pull together an audience with similar interests.

All of that is several words spilled to point to the news that the Obama White House is trying the tactic once again, this time as part of its effort to make the new HealthCare.gov a better website. (I profiled the at-launch version of the federal health care hub here, and all involved admit that the site's success depends on its improvement.) Who better to convene a discuss about how you present medical information well online than the folks over at WebMD, one of the most major of brands in the online health space? Tomorrow at noon, Sebelius will take part in a Google Moderator-powered episode of the Obama White House's Open for Questions, with WebMD's Kristy Hammam playing the role of MC and lead questioner. Hammam knows the field, as WebMD's point person for determining which content goes up on their popular sites.

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