Much has been said and written recently about Twitter and Facebook as engagement and communication tools. But there is probably a tool we all use that might rest forgotten in your communications tool box – video.
A survey of state departments of transportation published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in August 2011 found that 24 of 38 states responding to the survey had established some kind of presence on YouTube.com. It makes sense. YouTube has become the second largest internet search engine behind Google. If you can think it, someone has probably created a video of it.
A few years ago my wife bought me a cigar box guitar that was handmade by a local guitar maker. Not knowing how to play this strange instrument, where did I turn? YouTube. Want to know how to tape a sore knee? YouTube can tell you. Want to know how to make Siri work on your new iPhone? Yes, YouTube.
So what does that have to do with transportation and public engagement? Quite a bit, actually. The people are there. They use YouTube for information. And, if your project is controversial, your community may already be talking about you there.
First, consider the size of YouTube’s online community and the fact that it is only going to increase. YouTube now streams directly to home internet capable TVs. At our house, we stream YouTube video through our XBox gaming console. And with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, there are endless ways that people today have to access YouTube.
In addition, people learn differently but increasingly (this is only my opinion) they are learning from watching TV or video. Training and educational programs have used video as a medium for the past two decades so in many ways we have literally taught people to use video for learning.
With today’s relatively inexpensive video editing software, making a decent quality video is easier than ever. Which means that others might already have a video talking about your project. A controversial Utah project was skewered by a local neighborhood that got together to make a video. The entire neighborhood lined up and marched through a house, representing how the neighborhood thought about a new proposed highway alignment.
YouTube is not the only game in town. Vimeo is another option. UStream.tv has some features I like, too. Look around and see if there is something that works for your project. YouTube just happens to be the largest and best known in the category.
I think the biggest question is not whether a well-rounded communication program is using video to share its message, but rather how well does the communication program leverage the power of video to tell stories and communicate messages?
AASHTO uses YouTube to host its Transportation TV programming and other video news releases and public service announcements. Since launching Transportation TV just a few years ago, the channel has received nearly 475,000 views and it has collected more than 300 subscribers.
Virginia and Missouri DOTs offer regular news programming on their YouTube channels. Idaho has used YouTube as part of an online open house. Washington State DOT has posted design simulations of proposed construction projects to help people there understand how a project might look.
Here is a brief list of state DOTs with YouTube video channels. This is not an exhaustive list and it includes state DOTs because that’s a group I know well. Transit agencies and special interest groups are in this space, too, and making effective use of the medium.
A Few State DOTs on YouTube