Research for Transportation Decision-making

Cover for Guide to Developing Marketing
courtesy: FHWA Highways for Life

Transportation agencies are constantly innovating to meet the needs of an aging system, a declining revenue stream and an evolving customer base. The FHWA Highways for Life program earlier this year published a document, “A Guide to Developing Marketing Research for Highway Innovations,” which is intended to help transportation agencies “understand the needs, wants, and values of their existing customers and potential customers and us that information to make better decisions.”

While I believe that most agencies already use some kind of research when deciding whether to pursue programmatic and operational innovations, the guide should prove a very useful resource for the transportation communications community.

Filled with anecdotes and case studies, the manual is a solid introduction to marketing research. It will explain things to consider when deciding on the types of research you might need, whether you will need to bring in a consultant and even some strengths and weaknesses for various research methods.

Whether you are a seasoned communication pro, or just getting started, the Highways for Life guide is worth checking out.


Social Media Webinar: A few thoughts on value of online, mobile communications

Every so often I am asked to share some thoughts on social media, transportation communications, public involvement and other topics that we tend to tackle here at Talking Transportation. Wednesday was one of those days and it was a delightful 90 minutes or so of hearing about powerful social media tools and ongoing transportation-focused social media research that is underway.

“Social Media and ITS,” sponsored by Thinking Highways included presentations by several experts in research and transportation issues including Larry Ehl, publisher of Transportation Issues Daily, and Andy Palisanamy, well-known among social media folks as @TranspoGooru. I won’t rehash too much here, but I encourage you to check out a recording of the webinar. You will need to register your name and email address, but I think the content is worth it.

Continue reading “Social Media Webinar: A few thoughts on value of online, mobile communications”

Journalism is here to stay, so listen up

typewriter, iPad and television

This week I got a chance to attend a local Public Relations Society of America National Capitol Chapter sponsored panel session featuring multimedia news reporters. I jump at any chance to listen to journalists, especially when they are willing to talk about the shifting sands upon which the industry is currently built.  Continue reading “Journalism is here to stay, so listen up”

Linkedin: Quite possibly the most overlooked social media tool

Social media as an accepted stand-alone public relations practice remains just a few years old, but for some reason I still find it easy to think that there is little new under the sun.

After all, if we break apart social media into their functional pieces the actual act of sharing information today is not much different from it was when the young PR industry was ruled by guys who walked newspaper newsrooms drumming up interest in their clients’ news. Continue reading “Linkedin: Quite possibly the most overlooked social media tool”

It’s Personal: The Smartphone’s Influence on Transportation Communications

iPhone5More evidence was released this week suggesting that the days of sitting-at-a-desk, full-monitor web site experiences are waning.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published its latest research that shows roughly 63% of American cell phone users access the internet with their cellphones. That translates to more than half of all American adults. And of those who access the internet via cell phones, more than a third say it is the primary way in which those cellphone owners access the internet.

Perhaps the next round of questions should ask why isn’t everyone accessing the internet through their cellphones? Continue reading “It’s Personal: The Smartphone’s Influence on Transportation Communications”

Show your work: Transportation behind the scenes

I have suggested many times that giving the public a peak at what things look like behind the detours and road closures can only help tell the transportation story. The Washington State Department of Transportation team regularly does this, and the public seems to enjoy it.

Recently, the WSDOT team took advantage of an annual bridge closure to get some additional road work completed.

The project itself, while awesome to watch, is not necessarily the most amazing work the agency has underway right now (for instance, check out the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project). But the peek at what a weekend closure can accomplish certainly impressed WSDOT’s customers. Take a look at the comments left below the video.


YouTube is often the place where the worst of people comes out in the comments. But in this case, the public truly appreciated the effort WSDOT made to look behind the scenes.  

Using video well: Michigan DOT uses testimonials when talking transportation

The Michigan Department of Transportation, like a number of state DOTs around the country, have developed very strong video-making capabilities. In fact, the AASHTO annual survey of state DOTs social media usage showed that more than 78 percent were using some kind of online video.

But in this video, MDOT offers a clinic on how to build a narrative using the testimonials of the community leaders involved in a particularly important project in the City of Grand Rapids. There are certainly other effective ways of using video. But with the decline of modern journalism, transportation agencies need to develop two important strategies.

Transportation agencies need to find a voice that can speak directly to the people who use and pay for the transportation systems we build, operate and maintain. We cannot hope that the limited budgets and staffs of our fourth estate will have room for, nor interest in, our stories.

And, transportation agencies need to develop a way to emphasize the third-party endorsements – those ringing “attaboys” that help those system users know that what the transportation agencies are doing is monitored, engaged, respected and ultimately endorsed by a community and its leaders. Using testimonials by local leaders was an effective way for MDOT to show it not only constructed an innovative project, it did so at the request of, and with the blessing and support of, the people who live there.