It was only a handful of years ago that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, my work-day employer, began polling its member state departments of transportation about their growing implementation of social media tools.
In 2009, less than half of states used Facebook and then most were tepid in their level of engagement. The dominant tool for state DOTs was Twitter, but it was used almost exclusively for sharing roadway traffic conditions and emergency information.
The 2017 State DOT Social Media Survey reflects wide-scale adoption of an entire suite of social media tools by state transportation departments. And while traffic information is still a large reason for why states have invested in social media strategies, it no longer is the only reason.
Most states acknowledge that their customers expect them to be present in these social channels and find that what was once an add-on set of tools are now a key collection of communication channels.
According to the report:
“Nearly 83 percent of states said they respond to social media messages if someone asks a direct question. A slightly lower number (75 percent) said that they actively encourage engagement with their social audience.”
That has prompted states to develop business process around managing their social media presence. In most cases states share social media responsibilities with several communication staffers. Additionally, most states try to manage customer expectations for what hours they monitor social sites; how often they respond to inquiries and, how quickly customers can expect a response.
While states have embraced the idea of customer engagement, most have also acknowledged the need to make their information mobile browser accessible. The 2017 survey found that 90 percent of states make their information available in a mobile format – either a mobile-optimized web site or a mobile app. That’s nearly 30 percent more than 2012.
The push toward mobile has trended for several years, but the investment in tools aimed at reaching younger audiences stood out in the 2017 survey.
When asked “If your state could use only one tool …” most states opted for Facebook or Twitter. However a few states said they would choose SnapChat or Periscope because the users of those channels tend to be younger. One state official said:
“We’re using more social media channels to engage the younger audience. Our mobile 511 app is designed for those on the go and who don’t sit at their computers all day long. We’re targeting people who want continuous information in a nontraditional news format.” – Survey Respondent
Yet, while states are investing heavily in social media content and strategies, most are not archiving their social media posts and text messages. Surprisingly, few states (20 percent) are treating their social content. Nearly half of states in 2012 reported they were archiving social media content.
The report concludes that many of the priorities and concerns of state DOT communication teams today echo those of their pre-social media colleagues – reaching the right audiences with the right messages at the right times.
“The biggest challenge will be ensuring that the messaging is consistent across all platforms; and that we are able to reach everyone where they need to be reached. – Survey Respondent