Building your brand tweet by tweet

The Transportation Research Board annual meeting is one of the most comprehensive transportation meetings with more than 11,000 attendees tackling issues as diverse as signal timing and real estate right-of-way to the role of the federal government in transportation and … Twitter.


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Twitter? Yup. This year’s conference has been chocked full of sessions sprinkled with industry leaders interested in myriad uses for social media, primarily for the purpose of expanding public engagement. The apparent mainstreaming of social media within the transportation context has been a pleasure to see. However, the most encouraging evidence that transportation’s future is bright has been the role of the TRB Young Members Council, a newer group within TRB that this year sponsored a session focused on building a professional brand through social media and Twitter.

Full disclosure: I was a member of a panel of transportation Twitter users including Stephanie Camay (@scamay), Andy Palanisamy (@transport_gooru), Kendra Levine (@tranlib), Shana Johnson (@shana_johnson), Aimee Custis (@aimeecustis), Meghan Makoid (@mamakoid), Ashley Robbins (@cctgirl), Erik Weber (@vebah) and Andrew Krzmarzick (@krazykriz).

The large crowd heard a range of thoughts and opinions on how Twitter specifically can be used to build personal brands for aspiring transportation experts. The two-hour session included a wealth of suggestions and tips. Here are several things I learned during this TRB Twitter session.

The world is changing. Aimee Custis pointed out that 30 years ago, most businesses had typing pools where memos and letters were sent to be typed for distribution. Today’s Twitter and social media experts are the equivalent of typing pools. Those who learn how to “type” will be better positioned in the constantly evolving business world.
Twitter is a great way to engage. Nearly all the panelists praised the collaborative and community building aspects of Twitter. The 140-character micro-blog tool has fostered the development of a transportation community that is robust and active.
Be personable and interesting. Want to build a following? Be a person. Your online persona should be attractive to others. Meghan Makoid suggested that we should approach Twitter as a cheerleader looks forward to Friday night football. Enthusiastic, positive, engaging and likable.
Consider how personal and public messages mingle. This was a topic that was not unanimous for the panel. Some people blend public and private persona. Others have strict firewalls between their personal lives and public roles. This is really a personal choice that each person must make. But, regardless of how one might approach the personal/private question …
Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Be clear that the messages you send are appropriate for your community. As you build a personal brand, you will also represent your professional organization. What you say online never goes away.
Don’t beat the press shop. You might have the scoop, but your inside information should stay that way until your organization is ready to go public. Reporters are increasingly getting news leads by monitoring Twitter and other social media. Your fun heads up to your followers might break a story for your agency.
Learn the culture. If you are getting started on Twitter or other social media, open an account and begin to learn the user culture. Each social media tool functions with unique social expectations and learning those will help you find success.
Link your social presence. You are likely leaving small pieces of your identity all over the social web. Use Twitter to help pull together those pieces into a broader online persona.

These are just a few highlights from the lengthy session. I encourage you to follow the panelists on Twitter.

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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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