TikTok Is More Popular Than Facebook, Should DOTs Follow?

It’s nearly 2020 and social media has been a thing for more than a decade. So it should surprise no one that social media trends come and go. There was MySpace, Vine, Meerkat, Google Plus , Friendster and … so many more platforms that have faded after promising starts that it is hard to remember them all.

Picking which new platforms are worth the time to learn and develop is a serious question for communications professionals, including those at state DOTs. There are only so many hours in a day, and smart managers have to understand their abilities and anticipate trends worth pursuing and those to ignore.

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For Transportation Safety, Words Matter: ‘Crash,’ not ‘Accident’

It was nearly 20 years ago that I was sitting in a meeting and a Washington State DOT co-worker stopped me cold. I was describing an incident on a local highway that was snarling traffic, and my colleague interrupted my report.

“It’s ‘crash’ not ‘accident,'” he said. “We should never use ‘accident’ when describing crashes.”

I’m sure that I rolled my eyes. After all, I was the former journalist. I worked with media every day. I knew more about language that this guy. What was the big deal?

But in reality, he was right and his lesson stuck with me. “Accident” implies some kind of unavoidable randomness had a hand in the incident. Yet, in nearly every story behind the more than 34,000 annual highway fatalities, there is a cause. Those deaths were avoidable. Randomness? Perhaps. But certainly few were truly accidents.

While my co-worker’s lesson took place many years ago, the casualness with which most of us toss out the word “accident” is the focus of a new video by the Michigan DOT. The minute-long animated video makes the case that everyone who drives should take responsibility for their actions.

Michigan DOT is not alone. Safety advocates have argued for years that words matter and that we should not dismiss the carnage on our highways as simple accidents. The words we use help frame the way in which we see things.

Hopefully we’ll all heed the latest lesson from Michigan DOT, that actions (behind the wheel) matter too.

State DOTs Find Audiences with Local News Programs

It’s no secret that viewers are turning to streaming media for their television entertainment. But the appetite for local news remains strong, as evidenced by the continued success of local TV news programming. State DOTs have learned that there also is an audience for well-produced compelling local news video.

Local television news continues to be Americans’ most popular source for news, according to the annual Pew State of the News Media report. While the overall local TV news audience declined last year, still more than 3.4 million viewers tuned in nightly to watch the evening and late news programs, far outpacing other sources for local news including newspapers and radio.

Most state DOTs use video regularly, but a handful are producing videos that replicate the look and feel of local TV news broadcasts. These news updates typically feature a regular host, or at least a consistent lineup of hosts. And the programs focus on stories about the state DOTs that may not otherwise garner coverage in more traditional media outlets. These state DOTs are reporting their own news in a professional, hosted format that is credible and compelling.

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Getting to ‘Know’: Tools Helping DOTs Reach People During Emergencies

Winter is coming and for state DOTs that means preparing to clear roads and assist motorists. Public information campaigns for years have focused on helping motorists “know before you go” by checking web sites and apps for the latest road condition and weather information. Additionally, officials have urged motorists to winterize their vehicles and to carry emergency supplies.

Traffic backed up on Interstate 5 in Vancouver, Wash., in Feb. 2019. Courtesy WSDOT licensed under CC BY 2.0.

But sometimes things happen – a sudden storm or natural disaster – that are so unforeseen that the transportation system is tied up and motorists are stranded. What communication strategies are in place for those situations?

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The hottest new tactic for transportation agencies is podcasts? Yes, podcasts!

It may be hard to believe, but one of the hottest media tactics is podcasting. And several transportation departments and trade associations have developed podcasts as a way to reach what experts says is a still growing audience.

According to “The Podcast Consumer 2019,” a report published by Edison Research earlier this year, 22 percent of people age 12 and older listen to podcasts weekly, and nearly a third of people listen to podcasts monthly.

Edison’s report finds that the audience share for podcasting has grown a whopping 122 percent since 2014. And, young people age 12-24 are among the largest consumers of podcasting.

Music Oomph has compiled a host of interesting statistics on podcasting.

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New AASHTO Report Shows State DOT Social Media Trends

smreportcoverIt was only a handful of years ago that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, my work-day employer, began polling its member state departments of transportation about their growing implementation of social media tools.

 

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.

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