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The (absurdly funny) Consumer Product Safety Commission is winning social

An uncanny ability to turn safety messaging into entertainment is helping one federal agency rise above the fray.

The (absurdly funny) Consumer Product Safety Commission is winning social

How does one convey the importance of distancing newborns from electronic hazards in a way that captures an audience’s attention?

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How about with a well-dressed cardinal dubbed Bird Ben Franklin? In a recent Instagram and Twitter post by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the imaginary bird implores the public: “Have courage and keep cords three feet away from newborns.”

It makes no sense, but visually, it’s hilarious. Bird Benjamin Franklin looks quite serious about his call to action, top hat and all. It’s exactly this type of absurdist humor that’s made a social media star of the government agency.

In other posts, a Godzilla-like hamburger threatens to destroy a city in what is a less-than-subtle way to urge caution while preparing and grilling the national favorite. In another, a child is seen flying a giant book as a gang of pink backpacks gain traction. “Faster, Balthazar, they’re gaining on us!” says the child. That one is meant to draw attention to the 7,800 related ER visits by kids with spinal injuries and falls caused by overloaded backpacks.

“One of the best ways to rise above the noise to really reach people and educate consumers about product hazards is to keep things a little bit fun and unexpected,” explains CPSC social media editor Joseph Galbo. “How can we make this memorable? How can we take something that you’ve maybe taken for granted over the course of your life and make it interesting so that it’s relevant to you again?”

Of course, considering the issues often surround life and death, the challenge is to keep the messaging entertaining without downplaying the seriousness involved. Topics span a wide range of categories, including tip-overs of furniture, pool safety, the Tide pod challenge, even proper avocado slicing. So, while some posts might feature a cat in a wig or a shark jumping out of a laptop screen (to demonstrate safe online shopping), others are rather straightforward.

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The CPSC is a relatively small government government agency, with roughly 500 employees spread across the country and a total budget of $125 million. In the last year, the agency covered more 15,000 different kinds of products.

The CPSC’s communications team, meanwhile, is only 10-people strong. Together, they sift through all the data captured by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is used to calculate how many people are being injured by specific kinds of products across the country.

Essentially, together with the greater CPSC team, the communications specialists pinpoint trends and develop messaging around it, often in real time.

“So. when a safety message starts, it’s coming right out of what we’re seeing happen to real people coast to coast,” says Galbo.

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In addition, the team creates a calendar for events that routinely spike injuries during certain times of the year. For example, kitchen fires during the holidays. For that, Galbo crafted what he describes as a “grandma empowerment post.”

It’s an image of a grandma cooking over a stove, accompanied by the text: “Amateur hour is over. This is Thanksgiving…. We don’t have time for lumpy gravy and light seasoning. This is grandma’s kitchen for the next 12 hours. No amateurs. NO UNATTENDED COOKING.”

Sometimes, the group goes for more esoteric–perhaps click-bait-ish–methods. At one point, the CPSC tweeted out the word “horses” and just left it there for a few hours. Eventually, it followed up with a thread about fire safety, specifically the importance of changing your smoke alarm batteries. The following graphic read: “Horses need you. We all need you. Put a fresh battery in your smoke alarm, you beautiful people.” That one received nearly 1,500 likes.

“Each graphic has its own concept behind it,” says Galbo.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t have a massive following: Its Twitter has a bit north of 50,000. But its reach, by way of its humorous strategy, has been impressive. The agency had an internal goal of reaching 300,000 social engagements across all of our social media websites in the last year. It garnered 800,000.

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“We should try to run a social media strategy that works,” stresses Galbo. “And what’s encouraging is that doing the posting in a really entertaining fashion is definitely working well.”

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About the author

Rina Raphael is a writer who covers technology, health, and wellness for Fast Company. Sign up for her newsletter on the wellness economy here: https://welltodo.substack.com/

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