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March 12, 2010
Citizens Rousing the Watchdogs

Now here's an example of the new media. Bernhard Warner, The Washington Post's  director of social media Influence, analyzes a new element in product recalls -- Girl Scout cookies, footrests, and snack dip products being called back at least partly because of complaints on social media. Computer and cell phone users are often sounding their own alarms.

"Each day," Warner writes, "the Food and Drug Administration's list of recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts grows with frightening regularity. The difference these days is that bloggers, tweeters and niche consumer forums are policing lists like these, amplifying every 'possible health risk' or 'risk of fire' to their followers, almost guaranteeing some type of coverage."

That's because real reporters are watching the social outlets, and "What journalist could resist chasing a story where the outraged victims neatly line up before his eyes?"

Whether it's "old news" or not, whether corporations can count on reporters tiring of an issue or not, citizen complaints set loose in social media channels are keeping product liability concerns churning. 

Beleaguered as they are, the print and electronic media now have the public upstaging them or enticing them to follow along as amplifiers of citizen concerns. The democratization of news set loose by the Internet and social media is altering all sorts of coverage patterns.

Be sure your products are pristine, folks. Citizens are ready to pounce before the traditional media, or even the regulators, catch on to defects.   

Warner's parting advice in his social media report is that corporations have to use their own, normally cheery, social media channels to respond to concerns raised on the Web.

"These are your most supportive fans congregating daily. Level with them. They'll appreciate, nay, expect, the candor."

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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