New media connect state government, the public

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Capital News Service
LANSING – State agencies are using social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube as a new method of outreach.
For example, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) hopes the public will turn to them for everything from cherry recipes to warnings about food-borne illnesses.
MDA has posted links to recipes in honor of National Cherry Month, undiscovered wine regions and a new interactive website for the Michigan Beef Industry Commission.
Its Twitter, Facebook and Youtube pages — the three forms of new media approved by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget — are coordinated through MDA’s office of communication.
“It is a good way for us to talk to young farmers and people who are trying to start an agricultural business,” Jennifer Holton, the department’s public information officer, said.
Twitter enables MDA to communicate urgent messages about food-borne illnesses, such as last summer’s salmonella outbreak, faster than before, she said.
Twitter makes it easy to promptly inform people who may be affected, Holton said. “Our ability to post about recalls or food-borne illnesses is tremendous because it can impact someone’s daily life.”
Other agencies have also used technology to reach out during an emergency, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Environment during the wildfires in northern Michigan last summer and the Department of Community Health during the H1N1 flu virus outbreak.
MDA also uses social media to promote agri-businesses to boost the economy and tourism. One business recently highlighted on its Facebook and Twitter pages is Achatz Handmade Pie Co. in Chesterfield.
MDA posted a link to a video that featured a behind-the-scenes look at Achatz by FOX 2-TV in Detroit.
Achatz has its own Facebook page and blog, and is starting to see the positive uses of social media to raise brand awareness and sales, Achatz project manager Scott Brown said.
“It’s almost instantaneous, like wildfire. It spreads faster than any other form of media. I don’t think there’s anything like it, nor has there ever been,” Brown said.
Achatz Handmade Pie Co. uses a majority of locally-grown ingredients in its products and Brown said the company expects to expand to nine retail stores across the state in the next two years with guidance from MDA.
“I believe social media is a way a small percentage of the population is informed, but I think year by year that will grow rapidly, and that will become the preferred method of information transfer. It’s just a matter of time,” Brown said.
Kurt Weiss, Technology, Management and Budget public information officer, said the department recently issued guidelines so that all agencies know how to keep their look consistent across state government.
Security was one of the major reasons state agencies were leery of social networks for a long time, Weiss said. Facebook is the site where a majority of viruses were transferred to state media pages.
“Government interest in new media is really about improving the way we communicate with businesses and citizens around the state. And we really need to look at the value around doing that.
“The application within state government is different from the campus community and state citizens, so we’re still trying to tweak it and see what the use is,” Weiss said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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