Government Agencies Turn to Twitter, Blogs to Get Out Recall Notices

By Sree Sreenivasan on October 18, 2010 1:44pm 

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

MANHATTAN — For a couple of years now, I have received regular e-mail alerts from the Consumer Products Safety Commission about products it has recalled.

As parents of young kids, my wife and I found it useful to know what the latest problems were with various toys and products that our children might be exposed to. Plenty of potential exploding toys, strangling cords and dangerous furniture are being recalled all the time.

But e-mail alerts, while effective, are no longer enough to get consumers' attention. Just like media companies that need to get their content out in several formats and over multiple networks, the CPSC, along with other agencies, is using social media to connect with various audiences.

It has a Twitter page, @OnSafety, a Flickr photostream, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a embeddable news widget

Here's how the commission outlined its plans when "CPSC 2.0" launched:

In keeping with its commitment to protect the lives of children and families, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is launching “CPSC 2.0,” a comprehensive social networking initiative that will make lifesaving and other safety information more accessible to consumers. Utilizing a variety of technologies and social media sites, CPSC will rapidly expand its reach to millions of consumers.

“Through social media, CPSC can directly reach millions of the moms, dads and others who need our safety information the most,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum.

The CPSC, along with five other agencies, is part of a broader government effort called Recalls.gov, a one-stop shop for government recalls, including recalls of food, medicines, cars, etc. And Recalls.gov has created a Product Recalls mobile app that is worth looking at.

Whether you’re at your child’s day care center or a yard sale, whether you’re at a store or at home, you can now type a product’s name into your phone and learn immediately whether that product has been recalled because of a safety concern.  You can also see photos of recalled products and learn what to do with recalled products in your homes.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of USA.gov, the official government portal and its site has been redesigned to make information easier to access. There's now a Apps.USA.gov section tracking mobile apps of various kinds, and the launch of a new USA.gov app for the iPhone.

As Alex Howard, who covers what is known as Gov 2.0, explained recently:

The new USA.gov app is beautifully designed, lightweight and didn’t crash on me after ten minutes of searching and browsing. The integration of a “tap to call” feature with the iPhone on the home screen also preserves a handy “Gov 1.0″ feature as well: 1 800 FED INFO.

As the app description in iTunes notes, the app makes public data like birth, marriage and death records freely available to all citizens (provided that they have an iOS device with an Internet connection). Search.USA.gov provides similar access on both mobile and desktop users, for folks who prefer a Web browser to an app. Information about schools, passport and visas, tax codes, government jobs and Social Security benefits is also available.

The addition of the USA.gov to iTunes ends a quiet but important lag in getting a free government app onto the world’s largest mobile application platform. When Apps.USA.gov launched, Apple apps were conspicuously absent. Months later, the legal difficulties between the feds and Cupertino appear to resolved.

As you can see from these efforts, it isn't just the Tea Party or the White House that can use newer technologies to bypass the media and connect directly with the masses. The non-political part of government can play this game, too.

What do you think? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sreenet.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.

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