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.
There is little doubt that the proliferation and variety of mobile devices is influencing the ways in which people seek and consume information.
The trends and behaviors are becoming so obvious that major media organizations like the New York Times are customizing their content based on the type of device that is used to access the information. We’re not talking about simply making content accessible across platforms, but rather altering and customizing the content itself to fit the prevalent media consumption behaviors of each type of mobile device.
For example, the Ottawa Citizen this week announced that it would publish unique content on four different media platforms – news print, online, tablet and smartphone.
Transportation communications professionals are constantly challenged with trying to reach the right audiences with the right messages. Public involvement experts take that challenge a step further – trying to develop a dialogue with key communities potentially affected by a project or plan.
An interesting study recently published in the journal Political Communication studies the level of civic engagement following the closure of daily newspapers in Seattle and Denver. The paper, Dead Newspapers and Citizens Civic Engagement, by Lee Shaker asserts that civic engagement in Seattle and Denver dropped from 2008 to 2009 after the Seattle PI and Rocky Mountain News closed their doors.
It is an interesting research effort that uses data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the United States Census Bureau to analyze year over year participation in activities such as visiting a politician or attending a community organization meeting, such as a PTA or neighborhood watch group.
I was running with a friend the other day and we were talking transportation. I do that a lot.
Run and talk transportation.
But this time, my friend and I were specifically discussing the unique nature of being a communications professional in an engineering world. Some times, the engineers just do not understand what we do. They, generally speaking, do not always value what communications professionals offer in a transportation organization.
And, in the midst of the conversation in which was trying to describe living with such challenges, I came to a realization.
It’s all about the data.
Let me explain. And, if you are an engineer, please just follow my logic here. This is NOT an engineer bashing column.