The Power of the Peanut…or, How We Became Involved in Social Media

Yesterday, several members of our social media team attended an all-day symposium in Chicago about social media for nonprofits, and it made me reminisce about the events that pulled us into social media in the first place.

In January 2009, the FDA confirmed that an outbreak of salmonellosis in people was related to peanut butter and peanut butter products that originated from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) facility in Georgia.  Knowing that peanut butter is a popular ingredient in dog treats, we knew that pet treats wouldn’t be far behind. And we were right. Pretty soon, the dog treat recall notices started rolling in. Then came recalls of bird suets and similar bird feeds because peanut butter products were common ingredients in them, too.

Although it had been a couple of years since the large-scale, melamine-related pet food recalls of 2007, that experience left a lasting mark on us because of the scope of the recalls and the outcry for information. The recalls taught us valuable lessons about getting urgent information out to our members and the public.

We’re proud of our efforts during the 2007 recalls because we provided the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on recalled products. Our communications team worked long hours to keep our site updated, and it was worth every bit of effort because we knew how important it was to share that information with some very interested audiences.

As we evaluated our efforts in the aftermath of the recalls, we learned how critical it was for us to get information out as instantaneously as possible. We also faced the big challenge of providing important updates on weekends, since we don’t have staff in the office on Saturdays and Sundays.

Enter the Twitterverse. Twitter became our first real foray into the social media universe. It allowed us to get information out 24/7/365 with little to no delay once it had been confirmed, whether or not we had any staff in the office to update the AVMA website. Our first Twitter feed was AVMAPeanutWatch, and it used a peanut image as its avatar. It was a very successful effort, as people came to realize the value of the Twitter feed.

But, as expected, the peanut butter recall eventually came to an end. So what to do with the Twitter feed?  We renamed it AVMARecallWatch, and it now focuses on reporting alerts and recalls associated with pet foods, animal feeds, drugs and other products. The feed has about 2,000 followers, and that number continues to grow.

Skip forward to 2011, and we’ve now got a Facebook page (the evolution of that is another story), 7 Twitter feeds, 3 blogs and a YouTube channel, to name a few. We love the opportunities these sites give us to interact with animal owners and veterinarians in more personal and individualized ways.

It’s funny to think that a little legume can have such long-lasting effects.

3 thoughts on “The Power of the Peanut…or, How We Became Involved in Social Media

  1. I sure appreciate your efforts to record and alert. But I do feel that pet food regulations are far too loose in all cases where we aren’t talking about certified organic pet foods. In the latter case, annual inspections of the facility, ongoing inspections of all records esp. in regards to all ingredient sources and processing methods, etc. are required. Currently, non-certified organic pet foods can be sold even though they are made in private homes or are imported from countries with less than acceptable industry standards. But this clearly isn’t the scope of your message. Thanks for your work.

  2. Heidi, we certainly agree that avoiding recalls is ideal and we appreciate your comment. That said, there are some incorrect statements in your comment that I feel need to be addressed.

    First of all, pet food IS regulated by the FDA. For more information on how pet food is regulated, visit the FDA site at You might not agree with how it’s regulated, but it is regulated.

    Second, just because a product is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s immune from being recalled. Pet food manufacturing is a complex process and things can sometimes go wrong, resulting in a recall. Pet foods containing certified organic ingredients have been recalled.

    As I said, we certainly agree that avoiding pet food recalls is ideal…but we don’t live in an ideal world and no product is without risk of error and recall. Until we achieve that ideal world, we’ll continue to do our best to keep people informed when recalls and alerts occur.

  3. (peanuts can also be allergens for animals)

    It’s great to have an immediate alert to recalls.

    However, it’s better to avoid recalls in the first place (not only because there are pet owners without access to the internet or cable tv). I know this is a no-brainer. But remember that pet foods aren’t regulated – except! – certified organic ones. I hope veterinarians will join the efforts of concerned pet owners and certified organic pet food manufacturers to demand regulation and tight oversight of the non-certified organic pet food industry by an unbiased third party as is the case with certified organic pet foods.

    Organic certification assures tight oversight, full transparency, and ultimately better protection of owners (also in respect to marketing fraud) and pets (in respect to health).

    Certified organic pet food