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6/4/2009
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Obama Administration Spreading Message Via Web 2.0

A number of federal agencies have found that it is most effective to get information to the public by using Twitter, blogs, and text messages.

When President Obama spoke in Egypt on Thursday, his speech wasn't just broadcast by the White House. It was tweeted, blogged, and text messaged, all in multiple languages.

Like the White House, a number of federal agencies have found that it is most effective to get information to the public by using the tools that they use, and not just official lines of communication on official Web sites.

When the Food and Drug Administration began using Web 2.0 tools to get its message out about the recent peanut recall, it found that the more it reached out to meet the general public on the public's turf, instead of forcing the public to the official, standard FDA Web site for information, the more feedback and visitors it saw.

"The more we were out there where people go and not expecting them to come to us, the more we were able to reach them," Sanjay Koyani, the FDA's director of Web communications, said in a presentation Thursday at the National Press Club.

Before the recall began, the FDA already had an unofficial Twitter account, and quickly once the recall occurred decided that it could put Twitter to much better, official use. It turned the unofficial Twitter feed into an official feed named FDArecalls and fed RSS updates on the recall into Twitter.

In the interest of openness, the FDA created a consolidated, searchable database of peanut-containing products that had been recalled and made that database available in Excel, XML, and PDF formats, spurring creation of a third-party iPhone application that used the data. Largely because of the use of those portable data formats, the database got 53.4 million hits between January and May.

For example, the FDA also created a portable widget that plugged into that database, with code that allowed other Web sites like the Migrant Clinicians Network to put the FDA widget on their sites. In the end, the widget was one of the FDA's greatest successes, finding itself on 20,000 external Web sites.

Though it didn't have a blog of its own on the recall, the FDA decided a better way to reach out to interested parties was by reaching out to interested bloggers. It set up Webinars with health and food safety bloggers to detail new information, and those bloggers took to the Web with information in hand.

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