State departments utilize social media

Results of a new survey show that a growing number of state transportation departments (DOTs) are communicating critical news and information with travelers using Twitter, Facebook and other social media.The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) survey of 32 state DOTs finds that 26 states (or 81%) are now using Twitter to communicate with travelers when major traffic incidents or severe weather such as snow storms, hurricanes and tornadoes force road closures or detours. Almost half of the states surveyed (or 14) have an active Facebook page and 23 states report using video on their website. Eighteen states also report having an active YouTube channel. (Since the survey was completed, at least three other states have also begun to use Twitter.) "Using social media tools allows us to carry messages to constituents through the forums they already use rather than expecting them to seek us out," said Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. "We have improved our agency's credibility with the public, improved communication efficiency and saved taxpayers money." Washington was one of the first state DOTs to use Twitter and now has 8,000 followers on its main WSDOT Twitter account and 3,000 followers on its Seattle area traffic account. Washington, along with Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and California are among several states using multiple Twitter accounts to give travelers the ability to personalize their information based on specific highway routes or their geographic location. Overall, state DOTs are finding that social media are decidedly more efficient in reaching the public with time-sensitive traffic and travel information, according to the survey. Among the various new social media tools, respondents found Twitter (65%), RSS feeds (56%), podcasts (18%) and Facebook (13%) to be the most effective method to reach their primary audiences. States accompany their information with warnings about reading Twitter texts while driving. Idaho's slogan - "Call 511 B 4 U GO" and Tennessee's "Know Before You Go!" - are typical of the public safety campaigns that accompany many of the state social media initiatives.

********** Published: February 26, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 45