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.
It’s common throughout the transportation industry to make data available for private use. And, that data often end up presented in mobile apps. No surprise, if a department of transportation or local transit agency has rapidly, or even regularly updated data that includes route conditions, a mobile public wants to know.
The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority not only makes its data available to those who build apps, it went a step further and asked its customers which app they find most useful. Then, based on the customer feedback, established a handy summary chart, that not only lists the most popular apps, but where people use the app and the features that customers find most helpful.
Not only does MBTA seem as if it’s listening, it also is providing an additional service for its customers. Which, by the way, beats the alternative.
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?
In 2009, the District Department of Transportation began what, at the time, was a fairly novel way of interacting with the public over the state of infrastructure. What became known as “Pothole Palooza” was quite brilliant. The folks at DDOT told the public to “tweet” photos and the location of potholes and someone with the city would be out to fix it within 72 hours.
The old adage that all news is local remains just as true today as it did before the advent of the internet and mobile devices.
According to a recently released Pew Research Center study, interest in local news remains strong. And, the study shows that traditional media outlets – especially local television – remain important outlets for local news.