How can Regulators use social media?

I’m speaking next week at a conference of health profession regulators. The theme of the day: Innovations in Regulatory Communications.

I’ve been asked to speak to the topic, “Social Media: What you need to know to be effective.” I think I can give them some good ideas – and I’ll post about the presentation and their reaction after the session.

In preparing for the session, the organizer told me, “We’re most interested in how social media can be used in the regulatory environment, given the challenges we face as regulators.  We’ve all been to conferences and sessions about how social media works as a marketing tool in retail and other environments, but we’ve always come away from those kinds of events thinking that these tools don’t really seem suited to us.  But as communicators, we also know that we want to do a better job of communicating with all our audiences – the public, the profession and others in the health care environment.  So essentially, how can we best use social media without compromising our regulatory duties?”

I thought this was an interesting glimpse of the basic conundrum the regulators face. They want to reach out to the public, but they feel that they have to be responsible to duties of fair process and being careful not to be seen as prejudging as well as staying within their assigned responsibilities and not straying into the realm of policy-making that the politicians have reserved for themselves.

But does that mean that they can’t use social media? I don’t think so. But rather than simply preach about the virtues of social media, I want to provide my audience of regulators examples of other regulators and government agencies who have used social media effectively. I think of the way the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada uses their blog to raise awareness of privacy issues and make us think more deeply about them, the way that the Ontario Ombudsman uses his Twitter feed to alert people to reports he will be releasing, to listen to public discussion and to convey a sense that there’s a real human being behind the title, the way that Canada’s Washington Embassy’s Connect2Canada program uses blogging, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms to bring together Canadians living in the United States, or the way that Ottawa Public Health used Twitter to inform the public about the H1N1 vaccination program.

Now, you may say that these aren’t really regulators. And you’d be right. So, I’m looking for examples of government and profession regulators using social media.

Do you have a favourite example of a regulator that has used social media well? How about an example of one that has used social media and regretted it?

What would you tell a group of government and profession regulators about how they can use social media?