Face the numbers: Communication success requires a social media plan

The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s latest report shows that social media tool usage continues to evolve. According to the folks at Pew, nearly three quarters of adult Americans are now using social networking sites.

Of course, the young are still leading users with nearly 90 percent of those in the 18-29 demographic reporting the use of social networking sites. But a whopping 60 percent of those 50-64, and nearly half of those 65 and older are reportedly using social networking sites.

The latest stats are probably not surprising to the transportation communicator. Social media is a “must-have” tool in today’s communication world, as readily accepted as the news release and a web site. The rising tide of social media users is just further validation that strategies designed to engage transportation system users in these channels is worth the effort.

The interesting question — and one I think that deserves more consideration among transportation leaders — is whether transportation organizations are truly valuing their social media efforts?

Is there an agency social media plan – one in which the overall strategies are defined, goals are established and the proper social networks are identified? Is that social media plan given the resources — in staffing and budget support — to ensure communications success? Does that social media plan fit within and support the overall agency communication plan that defines agency messaging and key audiences?

Or, are transportation organizations simply asking their communications team to “do more with less?” Let us be honest here. Doing more with less is not a plan. It is a slogan, and perhaps a worthy goal. But it is not a North Star for us in communications to orient toward.

Unfortunately, my work with state DOT communications professionals leads me to believe that most are quietly trying to keep up with the latest trends in online engagement while still providing every other service, too. After all, most areas of state transportation agencies are being asked to reduce expenses, maintain services and add even more, innovate and still be successful.

The numbers are clear. Social networks are increasingly critical channels for engagement. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube or more emergent sites like Pinterest, Vine or SnapChat — transportation organizations have tremendous opportunities to reach customers through social channels.

Based on the numbers alone, we need plan that recognizes the shifts in communication preferences, identifies our audiences, prioritizes our most important work and that establishes some kind of definition of success.

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