The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a notice indicating that it is seeking the services of a company to help it monitor online sentiment, keep abreast of social media conversations and even determine "influencers" to better target its outreach.
The FDA "Sources Sought" notice was posted on 23 December 2013 to the government's Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website.
It is similar in many respects to an earlier contract awarded to help the agency monitor social media traffic. That contract was subject to a considerable amount of scrutiny by some legislators, including Republican Tom Coburn (R-OK), who included the project in his influential yearly "Wastebook" (#87) of allegedly superfluous taxpayer-funded projects.
"Being liked is important, but maybe federal agencies should take some time away from figuring out what people think about them and [spend] more time just doing their job," Coburn's report quipped.
That contract called for awardee IB5k to assist FDA's office of External Affairs in three areas:
- helping it to refine its future social media strategies by gauging the success and impact of current ones
- monitoring "overall conversations to see what the public is discussing about our work," as well as answering questions and developing content to serve consumer needs
- formulating an "at-a-glance" presentation of what FDA is working on for public audiences
A New Contract?
By contrast, FDA's newest notice says it wants to know more about an online service capable of providing its regulators with three primary capabilities:
- monitoring and measuring the reach of its messages in real time, as well as public sentiment toward those messages
- assessing the impact of its messages (including the geographic regions of impact), determining "influencers," and analyzing data to better target specific messages to various audiences
- monitoring mass media content and social media conversations to target communication and address information gaps
FDA's notice also includes a lengthy list of additional requirements for any software it would potentially purchase in the future. The software would, for example, need to draw data from "multiple social media channels," including Twitter, blogs, online forums and other social networking platforms. Interestingly, FDA also wants a tool that can help it filter through photos, video and audio sources, such as podcasts.
It must also, FDA wrote, "allow for network, nodal analyses of communications channels, influencers, [and] propagators."
The contract, with FDA's Office of Communications (OCOMM), would be for at least one year, with an additional four years available as one-year extension options.
Responses are due to FDA by 8 January 2013, at which time it will likely decide whether to issue a more formal request for information or a contract solicitation.
FDA Sources Sought Notice