Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US government launches state-based food alerts on Twitter

There's a lot of the work and lag involved in releasing emergency alerts using old fashioned approaches such as media releases.

Even when an agency's systems are tuned to fast-track emergency approval processes, when the media release gets distributed that may only be the beginning, not the end, of the process.

The release need to be brought to the attention of journalists and editors, they need to be convinced it is important to their readers and, once achieved, it must be re-written or edited, included in a news report and distributed.

For newspapers this can add a day or more lag, for radio and television (unless it is critical breaking news) it adds at least hours.


Mashable reports that the US government has cut through this by recently introducing its own direct to public food alerts via social media, using a custom Twitter account per state.

This means that the US government can get out the alerts it finds important more rapidly (even accounting for internal checking and approvals). It also gets them to the right audience - people interested enough to sign up for the alerts.

Alerts can (and should) still be distributed by media release into traditional media channels for breadth of reach, however the addition of Twitter-based announcements ensures that people can access the information when government releases it, rather than waiting for media distributors to deign to distribute it.

In this type of approach the government is using social media to bypass traditional media channels - effectively becoming its own media outlet. There's plenty of other activities where government can use this type of approach to great effect - regaining a level of control over messages and reducing the ability for traditional media to spin or obscure important information.

I hope we see the US extending this approach to other forms of emergency - and non-emergency uses.

And I hope Australia's governments will follow this lead - as some agencies already have.

Video below.

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