A new report has been unveiled to show developed guidelines for using social media to communicate effectively about food safety. The report assembled by researchers from North Carolina State University - will also help health officials as well as the private sector actively participate in online communities to discuss and explain issues related to food safety and ways to reduce health risks.
The paper Potential Of Social Media As A Tool To Combat Foodborne Illness is published in Perspectives in Public Health. As an example, food safety experts can use Twitter to search for and participate in conversations people are already having about foodborne illness. Key audiences may include consumers, the food service industry, and corporate or government decision makers.
In a crisis context, the framework can be used by health officials, businesses or trade organizations affected by foodborne illness to help them reach key audiences with information that could be used to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, said paper lead author Dr. Ben Chapman, associate professor at North Carolina State. The literature shows us that simply pushing out information isn't an effective way to change peoples behavior. You need to engage in dialogue and Twitter and Facebook are excellent places to have those conversations.
To establish a set of best practices that form the foundation of the guidance, the researchers reviewed papers on food safety risk communication and papers on social media communication. I get questions about social media and food safety all the time so there's a clear demand for this sort of guidance, Chapman said. But this is a basic framework. The guidance will continue to evolve over time just as the field of social media itself is constantly evolving.
Three more related research projects are in the works. Two of the projects will take a look at food safety communication on YouTube and among parenting bloggers. The third will focus on using social media to identify and respond to norovirus outbreaks. Social media may be the catchphrase today, maybe its big data tomorrow, but the underlying goal is fewer sick people, said paper co-author Dr. Douglas Powell. Twitter wasn't around 10 years ago but people still got sick. We need to adapt new tools as they arrive to the food safety sphere.
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