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Feds Use Social Media for Peanut Recall Outreach March 2, 2009

Posted by Brandi Hight in Health Communications & Marketing.
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Amid the rancor over the salmonella outbreak among 2,000+ recalled products produced by the Peanut Corp. of America (a few weeks back I wrote about the outbreak and the need to revamp the nation’s food safety system), federal health officials are using the recall as a test case to improve their communications outreach with social media tools. These applications (such as blogs, social networking websites, mobile applications) are being used to inform consumer and agency partners of when new products are added to the recall list and to disseminate legitimate info to an increasingly wired society.

Available on a special Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page (click here), the tools are an interagency partnership between the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration through is parent, the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal health officials seem to be taking a “see what sticks” approach to new media, using every conceivable technology to reach different audiences—consumers affected by the recall, interested members of the public, print and television media, state and local partners, and bloggers. When I say every technology, I mean it. Here is a list from the CDC Social Media site of their offerings:

  • Blogs
  • eMail Subscriptions
  • Health-e-Cards
  • Mobile Information
  • Online Video
  • Phone/Email
  • Podcasts
  • RSS Feeds
  • Social Networks
  • Badges for Social Networks
  • Twitter
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Web Sites
  • Widgets
  • Content Syndication
  • Phone/Email
  • Web Site Graphics
  • Text Messages
  • XML Product Recall Database

The site does offer some interesting features. First, a peanut butter recall blog with official statements and news about recalled products, symptoms of salmonella, and how the agencies are using social media. Some of the posts suffer from “government-speak” and seem like official statements reposted from media relations sites, but others (such as the post about detecting salmonella-induced illness in pets) are more user friendly. The mixed media approach of using embedded video, podcasts, and other features all keep the posts interesting.

Second, the XML Product Recall Database is a terrific, downloadable tool partners can post on their sites to help consumers and members of regulated industry make sure recalled products are off store shelves and out of kitchen cupboards.

In addition, the page offers some blogger-specific tools, such as widgets, buttons, and an informational webinar for bloggers that allowed bloggers to interact/ask questions of CDC salmonella experts. As far as I know, this is the first CDC blogger webinar for a news development and seems like a great (and low cost) strategy to inject some factual information into the blogosphere. Hopefully the webinar will contribute to a more professional/friendly relationship between bloggers and federal health agencies, so often the target of criticism.

A quick perusal of the features shows federal health officials are, at the very least, taking the recall seriously. Their approach to social media tools is a bit scattershot—the sheer volume of tools makes one think they didn’t clearly segment their audience (the hallmark of good consumer and social marketing) or think strategically on how to best leverage these tools. That said, it is exciting to see the federal government getting into the new media game. Indeed, if this endeavor proves worthwhile we could see HHS blogs and Twitter feeds on all sorts of new consumer health developments.

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