I attended a brilliantly packaged event last week, Blogging and Cupcakes: Using Social Media in a Crisis. Not a fan of getting to Georgetown at rush hour in the rain, I wavered, but with a curious confection of a title and Debbie Weil, a member of our SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board as co-host, how could I resist?
The presenter, Andrew P. Wilson, discussed how the Department of Health and Human Services used social media to respond to the Salmonella outbreak that resulted in the recent peanut butter recall. He and his team created blogs to raise the public awareness and help consumers determine if they were at risk, but ultimately what the agency could officially post was constrained by legal restrictions. So, the effort turned into an exercise in leveraging existing blogs and community health resources as vehicles for the message. HHS provided bloggers with sharable infographics and code for YouTube videos to add to their sites. Andrew, meanwhile, convinced his bosses that he should use his own name and face on a Twitter account and blog to get the reliable info out quickly, thereby becoming the de facto human face of the agency.
The bigger-picture implications about government partnering with citizens to disseminate information — and ultimately set the political agenda — are fascinating. In some ways, the issues are not dissimilar to those we face as business leaders and marketers. Like the corporate world, the government is learning how to:
- Listen to its audience, where they are.
- Engage the public and get feedback throughout the process.
- Shift from delivering a carefully crafted message — what to say to and where best to say it to persuade buy-in — to letting go of the message.
- Genuinely interact with the pubic, and not solely for political ends.
- Focus on helping people make smart decisions.
- Empower individuals to take action.
Despite those similarities, the road ahead for Gov 2.0 is so much more complicated than it is for those of us using social media to enhance products, services and brands. The scope of the mission is much greater: to create a truer democracy.
So, I guess you could say that the implications of an event been billed as crisis management and baked goods took a turn for the profound. Even my cupcake, white cake with chunks of fresh strawberries inside and and a big pink pouf of icing, was richer than expected.
Perfect food for thought.
Photo credit: Ginny