One of the most exciting opportunities offered to government agencies by social media was the potential to increase how well they communicated with the general public. After more than 10 years of Facebook and Twitter, and dozens of other social media channels, the question is worth asking: Are we any better at engaging with the public than we were at the turn of the century?
State departments of transportation, and other state and local transportation agencies have long used social media channels to communicate about road conditions, transit disruptions, weather impacts, project meetings and safety messaging. In fact, we celebrate many of their efforts here at Talking Transportation, highlighting the bold, the funny, the thoughtful and the impacting.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll suggest that government agencies are doing a good job of sharing information about the basic elements of operating a transportation system.
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.
In the transportation communications business there are always two critical questions that should start most conversations:
“What do you want to say?” (the key messages)
“Who do you want to hear it?”(the target audiences)
Once we figure out those two questions, the hard work begins outlining strategies and tactics that we will need to reach the target audiences. But, unfortunately, it is very common for our colleagues to jump to the tactic, without really considering those questions – what and whom?
To remain most effective in communications, it is a good idea to pay attention to what’s happening on the Internet. After all, the societal embrace of the Internet with all of its information sharing and communications power has had a profound influence on society and the ways in which we see the world.
I often cite the Pew Internet and American Life Project for its ongoing tracking of trends related to the Internet and the ways in which we interact on the Internet. Pew Internet is marking the 25th anniversary of the Internet with a series of reports. The first report, published last month, was an overall look at the development of the Internet and its rapid adoption by society. It’s very interesting material and worth digging into.