Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are growing at a staggering rate. According to The Nielson Company, consumers spent 82 percent more time using social networking sites this year than last. Were Facebook a country, its 400 million users would make up the third largest in the world, right behind China and India. Twitter currently has around 100 million users worldwide and experienced over 1000 percent growth in 2009.
In response to the rapid rise of social media, the Obama Administration has embraced these tools as an important way to disseminate information and engage the public. In his first day in office, President Obama signed an Executive Order calling for all departments and agencies to “establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.”
Across the federal government, agencies are working to better utilize social media technologies, whether it be for soliciting comments or sharing information. For all you eaters, tweeters, and food policy wonks, here is a guide to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) social media offerings.
CDC has an extensive social media page, where you can find links to the agency’s MySpace, Flickr, and iTunes accounts. It also has a neat description, in plain English, of how Twitter works and how the CDC uses it to convey important health messages.
@CDC_eHealth – tweets about CDC’s social media activities.
@CDCemergency – CDC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response, along with partner agencies
CDC on Facebook – sending health updates to over 55,000 fans.
CDC on YouTube – find videos and public service announcements on everything from immunizations to cancer to H1N1.
The USDA definitely wins the social media contest among these food-related agencies. The agency has a broad social media presence–it has four blogs, Facebook, and Flickr pages, podcasts, a long list of RSS feeds, four YouTube channels, and over a dozen Twitter accounts.
@USDA_AMS_NEWS – Agriculture Marketing Service shares updates and news on promoting crops and fair marketing.
@ARSInformation – Agriculture Research Service, the principal scientific research agency within USDA, tweeting new research as it becomes available.
@APHISgov – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – you can learn how about how the USDA is working to prevent bird-plane collisions and citrus black spot.
@USDA_ERS – Economic Research Service, tweeting on the economics of food, farming, and natural resources.
@usdafsa – Farm Service Agency, offering info on farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster and loan programs.
@USDAFoodSafety – Food Safety and Inspection Service, which has, by a long shot, the most followers (over 29,000), shares safe food handling advice as well as meat, beef, and poultry recall announcements.
@FoodSafety – the Food Safety Information Center (FSIC) at USDA, part of the National Agriculture Library, provides food safety info and timely RTs of food safety related news.
@USDAForeignAg – the Foreign Agricultural Service provides updates on promoting ag exports and global food security.
@MyPyramid – offers personalized eating plans and interactive tools for healthy meal planning
@National_Ag_lib – the “world’s largest library devoted to Agriculture” the library tweets about crops, animals, food, nutrition, safety, health, water quality, etc.
@usda_nass – National Agricultural Statistics Service – micro-blogging “facts and figures about the farms and people who feed our world.”
@USDA_NIFA – National Institute of Food and Agriculture tweets about science and ag.
@PeoplesGarden – the garden Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had planted at USDA headquarters in DC has its own Twitter too – all about the garden, complete with pictures.
@RuralTour – tweeting about the agency’s listening tour on “revitalizing and rebuilding” rural America.
Last, but not least. The USDA has a general Twitter, which highlights agency wide news – @USDAgov
The agency also keeps an updated blog with lots of pictures, on recovery and reinvestment projects and other USDA happenings. Also see its Food Safety and Inspection Service YouTube page, which features food safety tips, news, and speeches from agency officials.
The FDA has a bit of catching up to do on the social media front.
FDA has some pretty neat widgets–for pet food safety and health and also one dedicated to the 2009 Salmonella peanut recall–and a nice YouTube channel with how-to videos and speeches from Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor and FDA Commissioner FDA Margaret Hamburg. The agency also offer a couple of podcasts, but is noticeably lacking a formidable presence on Twitter. FDA only has one twitter account that relays food-related news:
@FDArecalls – tweets on all recalls, including drugs, medical devices and food.
The agency also does not have a Facebook page.
Last, but certainly not least, Health and Human Services runs an excellent interagency food safety-focused twitter account.
@foodsafetygov – tweets on consumer tips, news and recall information from across the federal government.