Talking Transportation Challenge: Do We Earn It or Buy It?

The evolution of media in the past five or so years has been phenomenal. Our world of communication has changed so rapidly I worry that sometimes we do not take time to ask important questions.

For instance, “Just because we can, should we?”

That was the thought that grabbed me this week when I saw the story in the Washington Post that described how special interest groups were buying priority tweet status on Twitter during this week’s State of the Union speech. The reporter described how organizations were trying to outbid each other for the opportunity to “own” specific hashtags such as #SOTU – short for State of the Union.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that this blog is not political. I’m not concerned with the special interest ideas behind these organizations. What concerns me, and I suppose what makes me stop and think, is the question, “Just because we can, should we?”

Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Flickr – there are many others – have become social media mainstays for many transportation organizations ranging from small metropolitan planning organizations to transit agencies to large state departments of transportation.  In fact, many government, non-profit and public issues organizations have turned to social media to communicate with their constituencies.

Social media offer the opportunity to talk directly to the people who care most and perhaps want to learn more about your particular issue or cause. It does not depend on mainstream news outlets or even niche trade publications. It is truly the essence of the term “earned” media. The audience you gain using social media are earned through old fashioned networking and word-of-mouth outreach.

What the Post story describes is the evolution of Twitter from a crowded meeting room full of ideas and people into a crowded meeting room where one voice uses a megaphone, blasting over the top of the rest of the people trying to carry on a conversation. It is not an earned position. The loudest voice pays for that placement – just like in a traditional mainstream news publication or news broadcast.

So, again, I’ll ask the question, “Just because we can, should we?”

It is important to note that Twitter is in the business of making money too. So, based purely on the economics aspect, it makes sense for Twitter and Facebook and other social media to monetize their products. I worry though.

At the end of the day, doesn’t the commercial advertising model drive away the truly organic audiences? And if it does, are we left with a social media at all?

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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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2 Responses to Talking Transportation Challenge: Do We Earn It or Buy It?

  1. Linda Mullen says:

    The evolution in America will always be toward capitalizing properties. But the beautiful thing about digital tools is that people can migrate to new forums.

  2. Alex Cousins says:

    Good food for thought. I agree it is a concern. I also agree with Linda that the social media world is creative enough to adapt and evolve. If something does become too commercialized, something else will come along to fill the void.

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