University of Tennessee
Social media is the number one use on the Internet, offering an opportunity to take advantage of the power of social media to reduce the consequences of food-related events, while gaining a better understanding of the psychological and social aspects of stakeholdersâ€™ relationships to such events. This proposal offers significant potential for breakthrough research in the use of social media for food protection and defense. We propose expanding the Robust Case Study team through a seamless integration with the Risk Communication theme of the NCFPD by providing real-time feedback concerning social media to government agencies, organizations, and industries affected by a food event. Specifically, this project will generate feedback regarding the degree to which an agency or organizationâ€™s messages are reported accurately in social media, including rumors and intentionality, the shifting levels of reported outrage, stakeholdersâ€™ stigmatization, and the relationship between communication by relevant agencies, organizations, industries and key online stakeholders. Our focus will start on the H1N1 virus, monitoring social media content to provide timely reports to the Department of Homeland Security and the National Pork Board, among others. When an additional food event arises that meets the criteria for a crisis as established by the Robust Case Study team, we will shift and/or expand our focus to include real-time reports on priority events, including a built-in procedural capacity to adapt to new social media outlets. This project will produce the H1N1 and a food event case study that will offer guidance to those affected by the event and produce generalizable lessons for communicators in the food industry. A critical secondary focus will be on the barriers and opportunities in institutional, technological, policy, cultural and communication issues related to the use of social media during a crisis event. Specifically, we will produce an industry white paper based on in-depth interviews with key professionals on the front-lines of using social media during crises to lay a foundation for addressing constraints in taking advantage of social media in a strategic, measurable approach. We will engage in frequent communication with the Robust Case Study team to assess relevant events, and each timely report generated by this project will be compiled into a final report at the close of the funding period. In addition to the real-time feedback provided by the project, we will continue to apply the information toward refining best practices for effective risk and crisis communication in the food industry.