Learning and Growing: What are you doing to stay fresh and current?

There is an aspect to communications work that is always evolving. We talk about it often here on this blog, that technology influences behavior and societal expectations for how transportation agencies can, and should, share information with its stakeholders and customers.

Keeping up with it all is hard work. From public participation to public information, communication and outreach best practices are evolving so rapidly that it is unreasonable for any one person to be considered the premiere expert on all of it.

So, how does the transportation communicator keep up? After all, we have operations to monitor. The system rolls every day, and breaking away for a few minutes to read the latest research seems like more than a luxury most communicators can afford.

I’ll offer you a few suggestions that I use, but these certainly are not the only ways to keep growing.

Find a support group

A friend and colleague recently invited me to lunch with some of her social media friends. It was great. For an hour or so I got to listen to some very funny “Twitter” persona showed that they were very funny real-life human beings. We talked a little shop, but mostly just connected. Thanks to my friend, I now have more people on whom I can call if I have a question or want to share an idea. If you do not have a support group of communications professionals with whom you regularly network, consider finding or building one. It is a great way to stay current and fresh.

Use the tools

If you are going to learn to be the best at communications, you have to use the tools as a consumer and customer. Visit the web pages of a service or program you or your family regularly uses and critically analyze what is going on there. Find an expert in a hobby or activity you enjoy and follow that person on Twitter or Pinterest. One of my favorite Facebook case studies has come from “liking” a local running store. I love how it has built a very active community through Facebook and I wonder often how transportation agencies can re-create that kind of enthusiasm. Ultimately, we will not fully understand how to communicate with our audience if we do not understand how the tools work for the people seeking the information – our customers.

Train, network and train some more

We are fortunate in this business to have resources like PRSA, IABC and IAP2. Each of these international organizations have local chapters that are regularly offering opportunities to learn and network right there in your community. In addition, organizations like AASHTO feature annual meetings like the upcoming TransComm 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina, where professional communicators share best practices and celebrate each others’ amazing work. If you cannot attend a meeting, online training resources abound. Consider finding some solid bloggers to follow. I enjoy a few – Mr. Media Training and Spin Sucks are a couple. I also regularly follow a few Facebook and Linkedin groups.

Staying fresh and current in our business is as much a by-product of one’s mindset. You have to have a bit of curiosity about things, asking “why?” and “how come?”

My favorite is, “can we do it better?”

Similar to training for a marathon, the finish line is much more about the training we endure than the event itself. I encourage you to spend some time on your training program. I am sure you will find that your communication skills and programs will thrive.

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