By Colin Marrs

07 Mar 2015

What happened when the Food Standards Agency’s Food Safety Week message caught the public’s imagination?

The Food Standards Agency has run Food Safety Week – a focused attempt to improve hygiene in British kitchens – since 2007. Traditionally, the communications team has reached the public by providing resources to local authorities and by contacting local and national press. However, Michelle Patel, head of marketing, communications and consumer insight at the FSA, says: “In 2014, we thought we would be cleverer and make better use of social media.”

Without money for advertising, the 2014 theme needed to be one likely to fire the public imagination. The “hook” was to focus on attempting to stop people from washing their chickens before preparing them for cooking. It is a topic that provokes strong opinions, according to Patel: “Intuitively it seems like washing the chicken is the right thing to do and there is a real hard core that genuinely believes that it is. But our advice is not to do it because of the risk of spreading germs.”

The first sign this year’s campaign would explode in the public consciousness came on launch day. “We had to find people to cover both BBC1 and ITV breakfast shows. But the real story happened on Twitter, with more than 30m people reading about the campaign on the platform. Staff did shifts manning Twitter and were getting messages from people from Australia to Israel, all talking about chicken,” Patel says.

At the outset of the campaign, Patel had hoped to achieve a 50% increase in engagement from the 4m reached during the previous year. In 2014, she says, “we just stopped counting at around 60m.”

The lesson, she says, is that if you get social media right then you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get your message across. But the message has to be quirky, she is quick to add. “You have to take a risk not to be boring. But we had permission to take that risk and had strong support from our chief executive – that is key.” 


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