12 Days of SMEM: Peanut Butter Recall

I mentioned in my CDC/H1N1 post that that effort was the
first of its size and breadth, but not that it was the first. The
first real effort to integrate social media into a large-scale public
health emergency communications campaign was a couple of years ago,
when a large amount of peanut butter products were recalled by the FDA
due to salmonella contamination.
In the opening throes of what would grow to be a massive recall, one
brand management consultant, Pete
, took it upon himself to
do a review of how the FDA was going about publicizing the recall and
making recommendations on how they might be able to do it
especially in the realm of social media. His ten strategies seem like
no-brainers now, but three years ago, this was rare air for a public
health agency. They were as follows:

  1. Leverage video to address concerns with empathy
  2. Enable sharing of site content related to the recall
  3. Create “safety satellites” on social networking sites
  4. Create embeddable “issue widgets”
  5. Overlay “No Shopping List” functionality on top of the product search engine
  6. Build a simple “Event” blog on the FDA.org website
  7. Video shopping guides
  8. Leverage WhiteHouse.gov
  9. Help refresh Wikipedia
  10. Leverage visual search in the product database

Within the next week, Andrew Wilson, one of the original members of
the DHHS Social Media Team reached out to
Mr. Blackshaw and made note of the efforts that DHHS and FDA were
taking to improve their
With the benefit of hindsight, FDA and DHHS (and ultimately CDC)
utilized a wide variety of Mr. Blackshaw’s recommendations and they’ve
since become the standard for public health social media outreach.
Mr. Blackshaw even followed up with a “Twitterview” of Mr.
The very coolest part of this situation isn’t that FDA and DHHS so
completely embraced social media in their efforts. The coolest part is
that they identified a detractor, reached out to them and strove to
improve their efforts to ensure that the emergency messages were able
to reach the largest potential audience effectively. No hubris here.
Just, “we’ve got a very important job to do, and in the midst of your
bashing us, you made some good points; let’s chat.”
This is an extremely important points because, ultimately, the tools
will change. Traditional media, social media, whatever the next new
media is. The best testament to being a best practice in the world of
social media and emergency management is this story. Openness. A
willingness to learn. Humility. Acceptance of all forms of