Transportation planners and communication types are always looking for the most efficient and effective ways of engaging the public in conversations about transportation. Mostly, we want to make sure that the people who are affected by transportation decisions have an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions.
I have been among those who have pushed for a more expansive use of social media tools in the public involvement process. And, often, I have heard from those who are rightfully concerned about issues of equity that too much focus on social media will leave people out of the process – primarily older citizens; those from lower socioeconomic circumstances; and, those with disabilities.
The latest Pew Internet and American Life report begins to shed some light on how – and how much – older Americans are using the internet and social media. And, the reality is that more and more older citizens are using the internet – mostly email – and social media sites. Nearly 70 percent of older adults now own cell phones, a huge jump in technology adoption from just a few years ago.
It is true that not everyone is online, and not everyone is using a smart phone. Despite more than 750 million accounts on Facebook, you cannot reach everyone in your project area with Facebook ads. I love Twitter, but not everyone is willing to wade through the clutter to find the informational nuggets.
That’s why, at the end of the day, the best public engagement plan will take into consideration the target audience, and deploy a suite of methods to reach that audience. Even, perhaps, a plan that includes social media because that’s where the “old” people are!