Social Media: Conversation for the greater good

A friend of mine used to work for the Los Angeles County Department of Health and would often tell me about their proposed initiatives and how they were working on new ways to spread the message about health issues using social media.

Like many companies, they followed the typical route:  creating a MySpace page and/or a YouTube channel, and would regularly publish content. However, unlike most companies, any Health company or Department has the added luxury of having to sell a “product” that is often incredibly “unsexy,” which often results in lower CTRs and a harder sell. They also bear the burden of marketing a product that people are often unable to interact with or, in some cases, are ashamed to interact with.

Think back. How often do you scan the internet, looking for the latest public service announcements? Probably never. And, if you’re like most people, if you do see one on TV, online, or anywhere else, you probably don’t talk about it with your friends or family because it just doesn’t have the same “appeal” as talking about the latest movie trailer or tv show you watched, right? For the few of you who said that you DO actually talk about the PSAs you see on TV with someone you know, 9/10 chance that the PSA you watched had to do with drugs or alcohol. And the person you talked to? Your child/parent/dependent, right?

It’s not your fault.  Most campaigns are confined to sites that prohibit commenting or fail to stimulate a conversation with the end user or viewer.

It’s because of that absence of dialogue that this snippet about the FDA/CDC, etc, intrigued me, as they’re successfully using social media as a channel for two way communication:

To get the word out about the recent recall of peanut butter and products containing peanut paste, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control launched an aggressive social media campaign featuring blogs videos, and tweets. While it remains to be seen how large a role the CDC’s Second Life island plays in minimizing the salmonella outbreak tied to the peanut products, it is exciting to see the government experimenting with new ways to reach out to people during public safety emergencies. Modern Healthcare (free registration) (02/03)

After checking out the Twitter stream for the FDA, it’s clear that they’re committed to utilizing Twitter as a consistent method of communication (as of posting time, the FDA had 243 updates). And, a quick look at their followers also proves that it’s not just media officials following– they’re regular Joe’s– just like you and me– interested in learning about what’s going on with the FDA.

But for me, the real proof was in the pudding: a tweet nestled halfway down the page:


Holy cow, they care about what you think! They want you to engage with them. Sure, talking about peanut butter recalls are scary, and in fact, many people responded that they felt the tweets were too frequent because they were so depressing and scary, but holy smokes, they care.

For me, though it seems like a small step, it’s a huge leap on the sociability scale: being aware of your presence on and offline is the building block of any good social media strategy. Let’s just hope that as they continue to tweet, they continue to engage: but not just about frequency– but about issues and sentiment, and things that actually matter to their followers. If they can do that, then they will have succeeded in this aspect of their strategy.

All in all, as more and more people find themselves on social sites like YouTube and Twitter, it’s great to see that users will also be finding public services (like Amber Alerts on Twitter, and AdCouncil PSAs on YouTube) there as well. Regardless of the subject matter, it’s important for a social strategy to engage users on many levels– and interact with them on a regular basis by providing relevant and interesting content.


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