I was scrolling through my Twitter feed to other day and this item caught my eye.
“Watch an ADOT clip of an implosion of the 1949 Pinto Creek Bridge, west of Globe-Miami.”
”We’ll, sure I want to see that,” I thought.
I clicked through and landed on the Arizona Department of Transportation Blog, where I was immediately reminded why good storytelling is such a critically important skill for today’s transportation agencies.
Not only was there video of an old bridge being dropped with explosives, there was the full story with the headline, “The bridge too tough to die – an appreciation.”
Apparently, this tough old bridge withstood the first attempt to demolish it, finally collapsing after additional explosives were added to its structure. The structure and the effort to bring it down made for an interesting story.
The ADOT blog, which recently earned the 2021 TransComm Skills Award for best blog, is more than just a collection of catchy videos. It’s a carefully curated collection of posts that chronicle the daily life of a DOT.
Caroline Carpenter, ADOT’s Assistant Communication Director for Digital Communication, edits the blog and she described it this way, “It is a bunch of different viewpoints from the DOT and to a certain extent that is what makes it work … that helps give a different perspective.“
Carpenter, who has been writing and editing the blog for the last five years, said readers will see between four and six posts a week. The content ranges from long-form profiles of litter volunteers to updates from ADOT Director John Halikowski. The posts serve as excellent content for ADOT’s social media feeds. But more than that, the blog has its own built in readership with nearly 480,000 page views from May 2020 through April 2021.
While there is a range of content and styles found on the blog, the slightly irreverent posts really catch the readers, Carpenter said. Among her favorites – the Halloween post with creepy photos of a central Phoenix tunnel, and a post that discussed the pressing issue of flying cows – a question raised by Jason Alexander. Yes, that Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame.
Carpenter also enjoys the personal stories, such as how an incident response unit team helped a stranded motorist. And she said she was surprised by how much she has come to appreciate profiles of ADOT’s adopt a highway volunteers.
“Their stories are very touching,” Carpenter said. ”The reason they volunteer is always a very personal reason. I think a lot of the time the stories are surprising for us and the readers as well.”
A blog, like any communications platform, has to make sense for the agency and it should fit into an overall strategic communication plan. Carpenter recommends that any agency considering this kind of storytelling to really commit to it. ADOT started its blog about a decade ago. It has built its audience as it has evolved over time.
The ADOT blog fills a niche that long ago was filled by community newspapers that largely have disappeared. It delivers content that is only found here. For instance, the ADOT Blog might be the only place I can find out about the country music song about a drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix, or the latest news on a regional mega project.
And, then there is the story about flying cows. You can never go wrong writing about flying cows.