How Government Is Using Social Media to Respond to Citizens

In Ad Age's First Twitterview, Pete Blackshaw Talks to the Man Helping HHS Address Consumers' Concerns

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Who says government moves too slowly? A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog entry on how the FDA might leverage social media to better address the peanut-butter-and-salmonella recall issue. Shortly thereafter, some ostensibly random dude named Andrew P. Wilson pinged me on Twitter with a heads-up that the Department of Health and Human Services is making headway on that very issue. Not only that, he said that on that very day, HHS started a social-media team.

Twitter - Wilson
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Turns out Andrew, officially the web manager for HHS, is the real deal. As I "followed" him during the next few days (and vice versa), I sensed a new approach emerging in how government is leveraging Web 2.0 tools to better connect with consumers and key stakeholders. He bobs, weaves, intervenes and aides folks with key questions and concerns about salmonella. What follows might be Ad Age's first Twitterview; it's pretty much how the 140-character back-and-forth flowed.

Pblackshaw: So Andrew, does the Health and Human Services Department really have a social-media team?

AndrewPWilson: Yes. See http://tinyurl.com/accz97. The social-media outreach effort is being directed by the department's new Social Media Center.

Pblackshaw: What does that mean -- Social Media Center? Just you? A full team? A body of activity?

AndrewPWilson: People in the department have been working with social media for some time, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/bsrtt8 (and others). Now we're starting broader initiatives.

Pblackshaw: But just you? What's your role?

AndrewPWilson: It's still evolving but much more than just me. To start, developing resources and expertise in the dept to help HHS understand and use new tools.

AndrewPWilson: Another important element is reaching out to other "thought leaders" (academic, commercial) to leverage their knowledge and experience.

Pblackshaw: Any inspirations out there?

AndrewPWilson: One of my SM "heroes" is Frank Eliason @comcastcares. His presence makes a real, positive difference to people by personally engaging.

Pblackshaw: He's one of my heroes as well, but then again, I also have a "client" relationship with him. Who else in the social media or Twitter landscape inspires you?

AndrewPWilson: People that are authentic are inspirational. Bus- @ScottMonty; Media- NPR's @acarvin; Gov - EPA's @levyj413; SM - @shel and @jangles.

Pblackshaw: Did the salmonella issue help give this initiative momentum, or was your sudden appearance on Twitter over the last week a coincidence?

AndrewPWilson: Much of this initiative already "in development." The time frame may have moved for a few pieces but many things already in play.

Pblackshaw: So what specifically are you learning? What are the biggest unmet needs for consumer concerned about the issue? Search? Timely info?

AndrewPWilson: For me personally, listening is the first step in anything in social media. What is being said and how can I contribute.

Pblackshaw: Are real consumers benefiting from your interactions, or are you mainly dealing with marketing folks and social-media consultants who Twit?

AndrewPWilson: I sincerely hope "real" people are benefitting. It goes beyond the short-term need here though. It's about developing meaningful relationships.

Pblackshaw: What does a "meaningful relationship" mean in a government context? Same as business? Help me out!

AndrewPWilson: Speaking personally, "meaningful relationship" is when both sides of the equation benefit.

Pblackshaw: Is there a certain DNA, if you will, to your followers? Health groupies? Power moms? Congressional staffers? Liability lawyers?

AndrewPWilson: Many are people following back after I contact. Some I know or know of, others I will need to learn about through the conversations we have.

Pblackshaw: Is it easier to advance your social-media agenda in this administration? After all, didn't President Obama have tons of followers on Twitter?

AndrewPWilson: My impression is that President Obama understands the value of social media. Not as a tool but as a way to engage with the public.

Pblackshaw: You used to be web editor at the USDA? Learn anything experience that's coming in handy with HHS? Farmers are a tough crowd, I'm told.

AndrewPWilson: Interesting you mention farmers. Was in Peace Corps, and my experiences with farmers helped me understand value of creating personal connections.

Pblackshaw: Your personal blog champions customer service and experience. How optimistic are you that government can fulfill that promise?

AndrewPWilson: From my personal experience, I see people working very, very hard to make a difference. Hopefully, these new tools can help expand the reach.

Pblackshaw: Any other government websites or social-media initiatives at national or state level that inspire your thinking about what's possible?

AndrewPWilson: In HHS, Centers for Disease Control is doing tremendous work. AIDS.gov is a real pioneer as well. Many others doing great work -- hard to mention all in 140 ;)

Pblackshaw: What's the most difficult Twitter exchange you've had to manage regarding the salmonella issue? How did you manage/resolve?

AndrewPWilson: To be honest, everything has been positive so far. Everyone that has responded to me (not all respond) has been appreciative of the outreach about 1 hour ago.

Pblackshaw: That's great to know. I guess we'll end on that positive note. Thanks so much, and good luck.

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