The world moves fast in this new age of consumer control and social-media powered agility and responsiveness, even for government. Earlier this week ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com took a deep dive on the FDA.gov's web and social media strategy in the context of the Peanut Butter & Salmonella issue. The upshot, reinforced by in technicolor by the comment feed: the FDA is missing key opportunities to reach out to concerned consumers, or to "prime" its site for consumers "seeking" information.
But again, things move really fast. Yesterday, I noticed a Twitter message from Andrew P Wilson of the Health and Human Services (HHS) department -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is part of HHS -- who wanted to give me a courtesy heads up that HHS was already making progress against many of the issues outlined in my blog post. More to the point, as of Friday his department just started a social media team, and he personally is now active on Twitter. Is this the government equivalent of Comcast's Frank Eliason twittering with me, or Scott Monty reaching out on behalf of Ford. (Full disclosure: Comcast is a client in my Nielsen job.) Time will tell, but a cursory review of his Mr. Wilson's twitter messages suggests that he and his department is making a concerted effort to keep folks in the know across all dimensions of the recall. One can also glean from his follower list that he's looking to stay wired to folks who have consistently offering commentary on the peanut butter recall. Yes, there's always understandable apprehension -- sometimes paranoia -- about goverment entering any type of conversation, but in this context, it feels like a win-win for all, especially concerned and information-hungry consumers. (Follow AndrewPWilson.)
Reading the Signals and Priming for Action: How timely is "participation" on this issue? There's no shortage of commentary, and there plenty of fear around this recall issue, and the news just keeps intensifying the apprehension. If you look at this recent post-recall Nielsen Brand Association Map (BAM), you'll note that once innocent conversation related to a once innocent term
like "peanut butter" has taken an alarming turn for the worse. BAMs reflect the density with which consumers consumers associate certain issues with the core topic. In this particular map, metered across tens of thousands of online messages across multiple expression platforms, you'll note that it's quite difficult to talk about "peanut butter" independent of the term "salmonella." Whether through BAM maps, free blog search, or other social media tools, the big question is how can businesses and folks like Andrew P Wilson of the Health and Human Services sufficently tuned in so they can serve the unmet needs of concerned consumers and other stakeholders. Might it impact the nature and tone of messaging, or even the level of empathy one might show toward an issue? The other day I saw a Google keyword ad purchased by a major food company against the term "Salmonella," and in reviewing the choice of words in the headline, I kept asking myself...how well did they tune into the tenor and tone of the conversation before placing that ad. Aperture matters!
More Comments from the Field: It's worth recapping some of the feedback to the original post about what governmental agencies like FDA and HHS should consider in address this recall issue.
Friend and published social media author Dave Evans notes, among other things, that "there is
a particularly compelling case for social media around food (and
family!) issues given the role of the "Advocate Mom" in her specific
online social setting." He also calls out Wegman's for its use of Twitter to push recall notices. (Follow Dave Evans.) Fred Wilson notes that "open government is coming and it's going to be transformative.) (Follow: Fred Wilson)
Former colleague and first-rate thinker Kate Niederhoffer calls out the FDA.gov site's lack of "social graph credibility." She notes: "You walk away from the site with the sense that the government thinks this is important, but do your personal friends and trusted advisors? This is where something like Facebook Connect could be an interesting build...anything that socializes the content and lets you know how your social graph is consuming the info, responding to the info, would be helpful." (Follow Kate Niederhoffer.)
Respected social media commentator Peter Kim insists the "FDA
needs to transform itself from being a faceless 'administration' and
show its composition of passionate and educated public health
professionals. Then they'll be able to activate social media and
benefit from its expediency, among other things." He also suggests that the selection of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General may well be a positive development. "Most people probably trust WebMD, Wikipedia, or Google search results more than an official government spokesperson these days." (Follow Peter Kim)
Social media expert (with lots of corporate experience) Nick Huhn points to the need for "alternative intersections with social media channels might be demonstrated in this case. Why not partner with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google, and other daily points of departure to spread the messages a la the Emergency Broadcast System via television? Moreover, dynamically updated information displays should present these notifications to consumers at point of purchase or via email if a retailer knows someone has purchased an affected item from the database of loyalty card transactions." (Follow Peter Kim)
Lastly, a voice from the younger generation. Chandler Koglmeier, my former brilliant intern (hailing from Middlebury College) who I credit with successfully matriculating me to Facebook three years ago, echoes my point about video but add the following. "Why not post messages from all parts of the supply chain (especially the producer) explaining what is wrong and what is being done to rememdy this situation? If there is anything to be learned from the Obama team, it's that more information on things which interest the public will be well received and passed around."
Let's keep this conversation going. Very important! Very timely! Relevant to all of us, including our kids.