But have learned a few tricks a long the way. And, in those lessons I have not only learned a few things about raising plants, but also about growing an audience.
Pay attention to where you plant. A garden cannot grow just anywhere. You probably have a communication plan that identifies target audiences. If that list starts with “general public” as your most important audience, go back and try again. Indeed, some of your transportation information is useful to large groups of people, but not all people all the time. Perhaps your responsibility is communicating about a new stormwater mitigation program. General public is too vague. You cannot grow a garden everywhere. Narrow it down. Perhaps instead you want to target elected officials and their staffs, stormwater experts, special interest and watchdog groups. Those are places where you can plant and see results.
Gardening requires preparing the soil to ensure it has the right nutrients. The dirt needs to be turned over to give seeds and young plants a fighting chance to get started. Similarly, transportation communicators need to take stock of their programs.
Find out what’s working and what’s not by asking questions of your co-workers, your management and your audience. Turn things over and break up the hard soil. Challenge those around you to think creatively about the hoped-for outcomes, which will allow you and your co-workers to think creatively about the strategies and tactics to accomplish those goals.
Gardening requires good seed and plant starts. For transportation communications, we need good stories and data and information. That means we also need good relationships with program staff, maintenance crews, mid-level management — any possible source of information about what’s happening at your transportation agency has the potential to turn into the grand prize squash at the county fair.
You have to weed your garden. You might think that means plucking out the ornery public gadflies from your distribution lists. But really, it means making sure you and your team are actively engaging with your audience. Have you ever stumbled upon the web page that was last updated in 2005? Or a Facebook page last updated in 2012? Or a Twitter feed that was last updated in May? Those are gardens that have been abandoned. Your audiences will not grow there.
Gardening is not easy. And, growing an audience that is healthy and engaged is not easy either. You cannot simply launch a Twitter feed and post a Vine video and expect a ready-made group of people to assemble with praise. Take some time and plan. Target your audience. Feed it good content. Maintain that audience with regular updates and high quality feedback.
You and your transportation agency will enjoy the fruits of that labor.