While most state departments of transportation now actively use social media in their regular communication programs, further adoption of the online tools is being hampered by some familiar age-old challenges, according to the fourth annual State DOT Social Media Survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The survey, which is conducted each spring, asks state departments of transportation about their use of social media tools and issues related to deployment of social media tools as a way to measure the adoption, implementation and best practices for the industry. (Editor’s note: Full disclosure time. I annually help write the survey and help analyze the results of this report for AASHTO, which is my employer).
This year’s report found that nearly 90 percent of respondents are using both Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate with the public, by far the most popular social media tools for state DOTs. By comparison, “In 2010, less than half of state DOTs used Facebook and only 26 states had Twitter accounts.”
But when asked to describe their biggest challenge, state DOTs consistently said a lack of available resources needed to keep up with the ongoing proliferation of social media tools. In other words, the promise of free, more efficient and low-cost tools to improve connections with transportation customers has proven a huge drain on time. One survey respondent said that while their staff resources were being cut by 10 percent, the expectations that the team would grow the social media program – and monitor the conversations in the burgeoning online space – was a major challenge.
The challenge was expressed in different ways. For instance, in another state, a survey respondent said that developing fresh content to feed the social media channels was a major effort for a small staff. Another mentioned that the new tools are demanding employees with different skill sets than they might already have on their teams.
The annual survey also identified those areas of focus that lay ahead for state DOTs. According to the report, “state DOTs that make their information available in mobile formats this year grew by 5 percent (68 to 73 percent). Half of those states offer mobile apps and 73 percent have mobile-friendly web sites.” Additionally, state DOTs said there is a growing awareness of, and interest in, measuring social media activity and engagement levels.
Ultimately, the results of the 2013 social media survey do not show huge shifts in tools. But the survey does show a growing increase in maturity and sophistication in how states are using social media tools to improve the quantity and quality of information sharing and engagement with transportation users.