Can you hear me now? Taking time to evaluate the communication effort

RTG79RqTLRegardless of where we work in transportation communications — state or local transportation department, transit agency or special interest group — we all have messages to deliver and stories to tell.

Have you ever asked how that was going?

Sure, we can track how many news releases we write and some even go further and track what publications actually print stories that include mention of our agencies. But how can we track whether our messages are really getting delivered? Are people really listening?

I am not an expert in the area of communication measurement. I read a lot, and at AASHTO, (my day job) we track key metrics every quarter to help the communication team track certain specific activities.

But I firmly believe there is value in digging a bit deeper and taking a closer look at the values your agency convey and the messages it delivers. Here are a few suggestions that can help you dig deeper:

  • Pull media stories and social media comments from a set period of time. A week or two, perhaps? Maybe focus on a time during which your organization was specifically focused on a key issue or topic.
  • Ask some key questions about those stories and mentions. Who is talking about you? Who is talking about your competitors (Editor’s digression: Yes, there are alternative points of view to those of your organization’s. Figure out what individuals and groups have them and track them, too). Are they sharing positive information? Is it accurate and on target? From where did they get their information — you or the competitors?
  • Pull together the data pieces and anecdotal impressions. What is the data showing? Are the right organizations, media outlets and people sharing your news? Are they sharing your story or one framed by someone else? Can you see why you are doing well — or not? You might need to ask some additional questions of your co-workers, program managers and, yes, even your audiences (media surveys can be very helpful) to fill in some gaps.

When you have enough data pulled together, share what you learn with your colleagues and managers. Ask yourself whether the information you gathered can help focus resources or hone messaging. Do the results suggest a need for better web information or a more targeted social media strategy? Perhaps your group needs to put more effort into educating reporters?

This might seem like a lot of work. It is, for sure, a project that takes some time and effort. If you have the budget to spare, there are consulting firms that can help with a project like this.

Ultimately, your goal is to paint a picture of how you and your organization are performing in the marketplace of public discourse. Holding up a mirror to your organization may not be the most welcomed things you will do this year, but it might ultimately be the most beneficial for you and your organization.

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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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3 Responses to Can you hear me now? Taking time to evaluate the communication effort

  1. Bill Cramer says:

    Lloyd, great topic. At IBTTA we are always asking are we changing the tone of the conversation? What is being written about tolling and by what writers and publications.

  2. Anne McKinnon says:

    Right on! And while we’re talking about effective communication, let us remember to ask the public that shows up at meetings or calls on the phone or e-mails how the study or project is going. And when we hear it, let’s not dismiss commenters as cranks or critics. Let’s take the time to evaluate what they say–big or small things–and respond.

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