FDA broadens reach through widgets, content syndication

The agency no longer relies on its own Web site to push out information to consumers

The Food and Drug Administration has increased the effectiveness of its public communications through using multiple Web and social media tools and partnering with other organizations, an official said today.

“On our own, we would have had a third of the impact,” Sonjay Koyani, director of FDA Web communications, said in an e-seminar today presented by the Young Armed Forces Communications Electronic Association's Bethesda, Md. chapter.

For example, the FDA’s widget tool for information about a recall of peanuts was embedded on 20,000 partner Web sites in two months, helping to drive 20 million visitors to the FDA.gov Web site, Koyani said. FDA's partner agencies included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as private organizations. They voluntarily placed the FDA peanut widget on their Web sites, which enableS visitors to those sites to access FDA content directly from the widget. The FDA has developed multiple widgets for other content.

The widgets from partner Web sites are driving “a tremendous amount of traffic” to the FDA's site, Koyani said. In addition to being Section 508 compliant, the FDA widgets add value to the partner Web sites and are sticky to those sites, he said.

A related tool is the use of content syndication, in which partner Web sites present updated content taken directly from the FDA’s site. Rather than directing a visitor to a page on FDA.gov, the partner site will feature an FDA Web page in its own pages.

“Content syndication is the way of the future,” Koyani said. “It is not just about adding links.”

The FDA redesigned its own Web site in September 2009 to make it more user-friendly. It also is using mobile texting, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, e-mail and Real Simple Syndication to help publicize its food and drug recalls and other public communications.

The agency now has four Twitter sites, with about 29,000 subscribers, and 360,000 email subscribers. Some of those subscribers are duplications, but Koyani said that is a good idea.

“People like to get their information on multiple channels,” Koyani said. “We are getting good feedback on that.”

One development is the testing of mobile text messaging, which has the potential for reaching broad populations, such as young adults and urban low-income families, which may have little access to the Internet, he added.

“Mobile text messaging has the potential of crossing the digital divide,” Koyani said.

Before making a foray into social media, the FDA spent some time “listening” and observing what was being discussed on the Web about the agency, Koyani said. The agency reviewed blogs, news articles and Wikipedia entries referring to the agency to identify the areas of need for improved communications.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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