Five (Communication) Things I Want for the Holidays

As we move toward the season of celebration, the calendar brings us to the point at which it is natural to take stock in the year and to anticipate the coming year.

The Talking Transportation blog is now a year old. During that time the blog posts have ranged far and wide across the communications spectrum, discussing messaging, tactics and tools in the context of the transportation industry. What you will not find in the blog posts is a political agenda or mode favorites (at least not intentionally). My desire is for this blog to be a place for transportation professionals to pick up insights and perhaps share their thoughts if they are moved to do so.

I absolutely believe in the professionalism of the people who practice communications advocacy on the part of transportation organizations such as state departments of transportation, regional and local transit agencies and, of course, transportation issue associations. We, as a collection of professionals, bring a skill and practice to our craft that is valuable — not only to our agencies, but also to our constituents.

Now, in anticipation for the year ahead, here are five things – transportation communications related – that I want for the holidays, and you might, too.

Time — There just never seems to be enough of it. Our email follows us wherever we go. I have spoken to so many transportation communication professionals who admit that their smartphone is the first thing they grab in the morning and the last thing they check before closing their eyes. I hope in this holiday season for all of us to take a few minutes to back away from the smartphone, the Facebook, the Twitter, and the Pinterest. Grab a notebook – not the computer kind – and jot down your hopes and goals for 2013. Or just enjoy some quiet time. Time is a huge gift for all of us in this industry.

Measurement — If there is one thing we need in the world of transportation communications, it is better tools (or a better understanding of tools) to measure our successes. So much of our work is explained in anecdotal case studies, whether it be a public engagement campaign or a social media strategy. I am not known as a numbers guy. But I can say with certainty that the more we can measure return on investment, the more credibility we will have with decision-makers at all levels of our organizations.

Research — We put so much effort into communication programs, crafting brilliant strategies and tactics to help us achieve our goals and objectives. But really, in most cases I see even the most experienced among us building these amazing plans without first compiling at least a basic level of research. That’s like taking off on a trip without a map, knowing our destination is generally in “that direction.” This holiday season, I hope we see more research into the demographics, behaviors and attitudes of our target audiences. I hope we take a couple of moments to ask questions about the best places to reach those audiences and the right messages we should use to help change behaviors.

A Post-Social Media Approach — Let’s acknowledge that social media is not the answer to all our problems. The tools are exciting and helpful. But not everyone is able to move through Facebook and Twitter as easily. Those with different socio-economic backgrounds, those who live with disabilities, those of different socio-ethnic backgrounds all use the Internet differently. As amazing as it sounds, not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone wants to be the “mayor” of the local donut shop. A post-social media approach to our communication programs is one that acknowledges the critical role these tools play in helping us achieve our goals. But it also recognizes that it takes a suite of tools — some of them as old as two rocks hitting together — to really reach our targets.

Employee engagement — This year I want to see more transportation agencies open up their social media channels to their own employees. But even more, I want to see more agencies build programs that educate and empower their workforce to advocate on their behalf. Turn over the keys, open up the books. Share the knowledge and make it more accessible to our co-workers. We forget our most credible ambassadors are our own people. By limiting their ability to speak on our behalf, we are limiting our ability to move the conversation forward. Remember, no one wants to hear the PR person. But that same message delivered by the snow plow driver is hugely persuasive. Let’s open it up.

A holiday season that delivered time, measurement, research, post-social media strategies and employee engagement would be a merry holiday indeed. May your holiday season be filled with such shiny things, but also with family, friends and good food and drink. And, may your 2013 be successful.

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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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7 Responses to Five (Communication) Things I Want for the Holidays

  1. Todd Solomon says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! And yes…trust but verify?

  2. Liz Rothman says:

    Have been reading and enjoying and contemplating your posts all year. Please keep them coming!

  3. Lloyd:
    Great post! I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed your thoughts on the Post-Social Media Approach. For me it all comes back to one thing: relationships. And, good relationships can’t always be cultivated with 140 characters and key messages. Communications is about “relating” to other people and I think your wish list hits this on the head. Nice work!

    • Todd Solomon says:

      Eydo makes a huge point: relationships. With partners, with audience, with all. When the resources for building/maintaining/modernizing infrastructure get scarce, building relationships could be the next best thing. And “talkingtransportation” itself is a step in the right direction.

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