Why is Twitter so popular with transportation communicators?

Last July, AASHTO asked state DOT communication officers to complete a brief survey about how states are using social media in their communication efforts. While we are beyond calling these tools “new media” they remain new enough that tracking their use and adoption seems like a good idea. The resulting report, released in August, provides a quick snapshot look at the ways in which social media tools are being used by state DOTs.

There were a couple of interesting insights gleaned from the survey results. Perhaps most significantly, Twitter is perceived by most (nearly 49 percent of respondents) as the most effective social media tool for reaching DOTs prime audiences. Facebook was cited by only a third as being the most effective tool. Linkedin, podcasts, video, blogs all were cited significantly less as being very effective. 

What’s interesting about that finding is that Facebook has more than 750 million accounts. As of last February, Twitter only had 200 million accounts. YouTube.com has become the internet’s second largest search engine, yet video was hardly mentioned as one of the most effective tools. So, somehow Twitter has proven more valuable to state DOTS even through states are limited to 140 characters per message and Twitter has fewer accounts and less traffic than some of the larger communication tools available to states?

I think Twitter outperforms some of the other tools because of its mobility and how its users shift through thousands of messages to share and comment on information. More than 80 percent of adults own a cell phone and nearly half of cell phone owners have apps on their phones.

Twitter, perhaps more so than Facebook, is one of those social media sites through which most engagement takes place while people are out and about. The smartphone makes Twitter more accessible, and perhaps more interesting. The people using Twitter seem to be moving and mobile. That seems to be a perfect marriage of technology and message for the transportation communications expert.

Perhaps we should be more surprised that only half of the DOT communication officers cited Twitter? But there remain significant barriers to implementing new social media tools at state DOTs – a topic we will explore in more detail in a future post.

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About Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.
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5 Responses to Why is Twitter so popular with transportation communicators?

  1. Any DOT would be nuts to overlook Twitter. WashDOT posts updates early and often, for instance during ice storms, and they are amplified within seconds by thousands of followers. Twitter was a premier source of facts for thousands of people during #viadoom here in late October, while one of Seattle’s two north-south highways closed for partial demolition. It’s also a commuter lifeline when the downtown transit tunnel occasionally closed due to a crime or malfunctioning vehicle. Amen Lloyd.

  2. It’s interesting that YouTube is now the second largest search engine. I suspect we (transportation communicators) would report more on YouTube if time and effort didn’t constrain us from doing so. The nice thing about Twitter is that we can report anything in a matter of seconds. YouTube, on the other hand, requires resources (e.g., a video recorder), advanced planning and a decent amount of work. Twitter wins from a cost and time-savings standpoint.

  3. I don’t have time to write a post because I am going over to follow you on Twitter Lloyd! : )

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