Happy Birthday iPhone: Tech May Change, Good Communications Remains the Same

iPhone5The iPhone turned 10 last month. As Steve Jobs began to introduce the iPhone at the MacWorld conference in 2007, he said, “We’re going to make history together today.” 

That certainly was true. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, but it revolutionized how people communicated and how they sought out information – two things that have largely reshaped the ways in which communications teams within transportation departments do their work.

In 2007, a DOT team with which I worked teamed up with a local utility company to insert construction announcements into monthly water bills that went to residents near a major project. It was expensive and time-consuming. And, we had no way of knowing whether the people who opened the utility bill even read the notice.

Of course, most people pay electronically now. So while that was a huge successful tactic in 2007, it isn’t something that can be repeated today.

In 2007, I carried a day planner and a printout of phone numbers for key regional media. Today, my watch beeps to let me know when I need to get up and move from my desk to reach my hourly step goal. I follow media via Twitter and have not had to print out a call list in years.

In the early 2000s, a huge mudslide closed a road in a rural area. Our DOT team posted fliers and held a quick open house meeting at the tiny local grocery store and post office, because that’s where local people got their news. Today, probably would still hold a meeting, but we also would post on Facebook, start a web page, tweet, Snapchat and cut a quick video to post online.

Yes, the world has changed in 10 years. The iPhone’s birthday is just a mile marker that helps us acknowledge how far things have come. But ultimately, when I compare how we communicated a decade ago or even earlier, it is obvious that core values and motivations for why we communicate have not changed at all.

For government in general, and transportation agencies specifically, our constituents will always expect a level of transparency and accountability that comes from good communication. Empathy and compassion remain valuable elements of good communication that results in greater understanding of an issue.

The most efficient communication tactics deliver messages where people are most likely going to see them. That’s why the store worked in 2002, but Facebook might work best in 2017.

Indeed, technology will continue to evolve. The best communications teams will continue to ask the most timeless of questions before reaching for the newest tools:  What do we want to say, and to whom do we want to say it? Everything else builds from there.

 

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Author: 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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