How the Food Standards Agency used social media during the Olympic games of 2012 in London.
During an event like the Olympic games, no one wants a major food safety incident to risk the health of athletes or visitors, so a lot of work was done years in advance by various organisations and government departments to avoid this from happening. The Food Standards Agency was responsible for minimising the risks to food safety during the Olympic games in London of 2012.
To be constantly alert to any potential emerging risks during the Games, the FSA set up a very first social media dashboard which allowed them to listen, monitor and engage. This was used by the News and Channels teams in Communications, but also by our Incidents team, who were ready 24/7 to respond to any food incident during the Games. They were able to monitor conversations, on Twitter and other sites and see what was being talked about, and make judgements about what to respond to.
A good example of this was when tweets started to appear about the Australian and Canadian badminton teams all falling ill with food poisoning. The FSA was able to quickly measure the impact, correct rumours that were quickly spreading, and advise followers on the updates from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) investigation as they happened. This identified a Norovirus not from a food source as the cause, and showed it was limited to five members of the Olympic teams.
The campaign, that was called ‘Play it Safe’, had a dedicated Twitter feed, on which new approaches were explored. A ‘spot the difference’ competition based on food safety in a commercial kitchen which drove people to the Play it Safe page on our website. The FSA also held two Tweet chats, where our experts spent an hour answering live questions. This was particularly successful, not only due to the impressive number of people who took part, but also because our policy colleagues were able to see firsthand how Twitter can be a useful tool for the FSA.
The long term outcome of the successful Tweetchats is that the FSA will make these a feature of the main food.gov Twitter feed in the future. The Play it Safe Twitter account had gathered 730 followers over 25 weeks, which included restaurant owners, journalists and consumers. The FSA emphasizes that they managed to reach this figure using an approach of engaging with followers, rather than just broadcasting messages.
The organisation now understands that social media is a two way street, simply listening, engaging and sharing others’ content really helped them to build more meaning relationships with government colleagues and stakeholders. Employees obtained an open access to a wide range of social media channels. There is a social media policy and strategy that is built on educating and encouraging staff to share the messages of the organisation.