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.
After a lawsuit was filed against the Trump Administration for blocking Twitter users, the Lansing State Journal decided to look at government accounts in its home state. It found that state agencies had blocked accounts.
A few paragraphs into the story, there was this line that pointed directly at the state DOT:
“Records show that while some government accounts didn’t block anyone, the dozen accounts associated with the Michigan Department of Transportation blocked a combined 550 individual Twitter handles.”
Streaming live events is not necessarily a new idea for transportation agencies. But one state DOT has found that leveraging live streaming capabilities within Facebook can generate huge results.
The Washington State Department of Transportation was one of the first state DOTs to experiment with Periscope, a live streaming service owned by Twitter. The 2015 State DOT Social Media Survey found that about 10 percent of DOTs in 2015 were using either Periscope, or the similar Meerkat, streaming media service.
Transportation organizations have important information to share with the traveling public. That’s especially true during natural disasters when maintenance crews and first responders are often the first people surveying damage and assessing the status of infrastructure leading to people’s homes and businesses.
The White House is there. Departments of health have accounts. Even departments of wildlife and interior have created Snapchat accounts. But state DOTs are still not embracing the fast-growing social medium popular with teens and young adults.
The exception is Mississippi DOT, which in April partnered with a local Mississippi-based creative firm Godwin Group to engage youth and their parents at a safety fair in Jackson.
The use of humor in social media spaces has for some time been an acknowledged strategy for building an audience. And, most people would agree that it is hard to build excitement or interest in dry lectures about best practices.
The Washington State Department of Transportation last month decided to leverage the holiday season to make a few points about driver behavior by crafting their messages under the guise of celebrating Festivus, the fictional holiday featured in the Seinfeld comedy series of the 1990s. Part of the “traditional” Festivus celebrations includes the “airing of grievances,” along with displaying feats of strength.
[Full disclosure: I formerly worked for WSDOT and as a former state resident generally follow their social media channels.]
So WSDOT took to Twitter Dec. 23, 2015 and announced it was celebrating Festivus 2015 by airing a few grievances. Jeremy Bertrand, WSDOT’s digital and social media guru, reported that the “grievance” airing went well and that from WSDOT’s perspective the public enjoyed the messages, and in some cases joined in by airing grievances of their own.
By using the Festivus theme WSDOT was able to highlight risky behaviors, bad habits and other actions that typical motorists sometimes use that contribute to safety concerns and maintenance issues. This is not the first time a state DOT has talked about these issues, but using humor and connecting with a pop culture event like Festivus helped communicate the messages in a more acceptable way.