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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bishvil Pikuach Nefesh

Overlooked in all the chatter about the danger of the 'net, IM's, etc, is the Pikuach Nefesh aspect:

Did MySpace save lives?
February 16, 2009 by Valerie Helmbreck


If you hear that health officials are managing a bacteria outbreak using social networks and cringe, you’re officially a geezer.

You’re certified as a person who’s not thinking outside the box.

Ultimately, that’s when using social networks is most effective: When it’s used for a purpose that probably wasn’t intended or even intuitive, but it works.

I have to admit, that when I first read that government officials had used social networks to try and rein in the damage being done by peanuts contaminated with salmonella, I thought it sounded just a little dirty.

I mean, really, managing infections with social networking? I always thought that’s how bacteria was spread!

But the truth is, Federal health agencies relied heavily on “social media” to get the word out about the recent salmonella outbreak.

They’re even hinting that they possibly reduced the number of deaths and injuries caused by the illness with this approach.

Officials with Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said social media helped them spread the word about the peanut butter recall.

The agencies used widgets, blogs, Twitter, podcasts, mobile alerts and online videos to warn the public that peanut butter manufactured by Peanut Corp. of America might be tainted with salmonella. (To date, eight people have died and 50 have gotten sick from the contamination.)

When officials at the FDA and CDC figured out that the common food in cases of illness from the salmonella was peanuts, they got together to brainstorm about how they’d get the word out about a recall of peanut products.

The FDA created a database of recalled products, which the public could search either by product name or category such as cookies, chips and crackers. The agency then worked with CDC to spread the word of the pending peanut butter recall because FDA did not yet have the IT infrastructure to inform the public as quickly as CDC.

According to Nextgov.com, which follows IT and how the government is using it, here’s a sketch of the plan they came up with:

“Health and Human Services and CDC took the Food and Drug Administration’s recall database and created a widget, a small online application that can be posted on other Web sites, many of which were run by other government agencies and private organizations. The widget allowed users to search FDA’s database of recalled products from Web site operated by state and local health agencies and other organizations.

“FDA also launched a subject-specific blog on its Web site, which informed readers about the latest news and updates on the outbreak. Blog posts included those from health professionals, CDC officials and featured video on how to avoid tainted products.”

Also, at this time, the FDA was doing a video on the anatomy of an outbreak, which they put on hold to do on using a leader at the FDG to talk about how consumers could protect against getting sick.

Health and Human Services and the CDC also posted he video on their Web sites and on the commercial video-sharing site YouTube.

They also set up a Twitter account to let folks know when an item was added to the peanut recall list. “Followers” got instant updates (which was a good thing for institutional food managers to keep on top of, wouldn’t you think?)

The CDC used its MySpace and Second Life accounts to stay in touch with health bloggers, who helped spread the word about the outbreak. CDC has a presence on two of the most prominent social networking sites, MySpace and Second Life. For the peanut butter outbreak and other issues, the agency has reached out to prominent health bloggers to help spread its message.

They also used it to include the “mommy bloggers” who’d be anxious about what to avoid with this kid-popular food.

The popularity of the videos, podcasts and blog entries surprised the agencies. Example: FDA’s recall widget was used 1.4 million times in nine days.

The power and reach of social networking is vast and fast. Using it to help your business or organization often takes thinking outside the normal box of communication tools. But putting social networking back in the box isn’t going to happen soon.

What’s your firm done to use these tools to promote or manage its affairs?


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