Iowa Department of Transportation Uses Social Media for Safety

March 7, 2013

iowa department of transportation social media

For the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), having a few thousand extra sets of eyes on the roads can mean increased safety for all drivers. Because of this, the department has created a push for social media engagement that will allow drivers to share traffic updates quickly and efficiently. This push is noticed, especially during the winter snow storms we’ve seen lately, online and on the roads. 

Drivers in the state have probably noticed the dynamic message boards displayed over many state highways. During emergency situations like a winter storm, the boards show safety messages to assist motorists. However, when the weather is clear the Iowa DOT is using the boards to encourage drivers to follow their twitter feed at @iowadot.

This social media engagement allows drivers from the state to connect with the Iowa DOT and help other drivers by submitting geotagged photos and videos to show driving conditions and using the #iatraffic hashtag during events to let others join the conversation. To learn more about this social initiative, we had a conversation with Iowa Department of Transportation web team member, Cherice Ogg.

The DOT has started pushing for more followers on Twitter, including on their road signs. Why the emphasis on this social network?

The Iowa DOT is encouraging public engagement in a traffic network that helps others sharing the road understand travel conditions and risks, as well as provide business intelligence to the DOT’s operations center to help direct resources to trouble spots. It is like having hundreds of thousands of traffic reporters all over the state.

iowa dot twitter

With phones and driving, there can be safety concerns with what you’re encouraging. How do you hope to get engagement from drivers, yet make sure they are staying safe?

Of course, safety is paramount and travelers are urged to use their mobile devices responsibly and in accordance with Iowa law. That means texting and video and photo sharing should always be performed by drivers when they are off the road in a safe location, such as a rest area or travel services location; or by passengers while en route. Using dynamic message boards to convey the DOT’s twitter site is to facilitate this type of conversation when it is safe to do so.

With photos and tweets coming in from all over the state, how do you target messaging to these select areas of the state?

We have multiple Twitter sites targeted to all regions of Iowa as well as a statewide road conditions Twitter site. We post region-specific information to the region sites, as well as to the statewide site.

How many people are on staff to handle social media conversations? What tools do you use to help make this easier?

We have 4-6 people available to monitor social media conversations during an emergency event. We run different shifts during emergencies so that we can provide coverage from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. We have one person monitoring social media each shift. During non-emergencies, we have one person that monitors our accounts during our regular business hours.

We use a social media monitoring and engagement tool called Radian6 to monitor and engage our followers on our multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts. Radian6 also makes it easy for us to monitor conversations on social  media networks which helps us to provide business intelligence to the DOT’s operations center and direct resources to trouble spots.

What’s in the works for the DOT in the future in terms of social media? Anything we can look forward to?

We will continue to look for different ways to use social media to engage our followers and collect information to enhance communications with travelers.

Thanks Cherice! Have you started to look to social media sites for your travel plans? Better still, have you considered how you can use the accessibility that social media offers to be a utility to your customers and community?

Photo via Flickr user iowa_spirit_walker
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.