Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
article
Feature
Caltrans is now using Twitter -- the 140-character social media tool -- to reach stakeholders.

Tweetable Caltrans: District 7 Leverages the Power of Social Media
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 08/2010

District 7 is always looking for effective ways to connect with stakeholders, and now it’s doing it 140 characters at a time.

[Click photo to read caption.]

NASA does it. The White House does it. The NFL does it. And so does the United Nations, United Airlines, and Manchester United. What they’re all doing is using Twitter to connect with the public, and now, District 7 is doing it, too.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is an Internet-based service that allows users to send 140-character messages to people who sign up to receive their tweets (that’s what Twitter messages are called). It’s a lot like sending a text message, but instead of sending it to one person, you can send it to thousands, even millions, of “followers.” That extensive reach – and the immediacy of the format – is what makes it such an effective tool.

Caltrans has long used a wide range of channels to communicate with the public – everything from traditional media like television, radio and newspapers to email blasts and web-based video. Twitter, which District 7 first began using in the spring of 2009, allows Caltrans to leverage the power of social media to reach people in new ways. And by all accounts, it’s working.

“It’s really picking up,” said Yessica Jovel, who manages the Twitter feed for District 7 Public Affairs. “It was slow at first, but we now have over 500 followers. We’ve been very happy with the response so far.”

Although several other Caltrans districts are using Twitter, District 7 has the most followers and sends the most tweets – anywhere from three to eight every week. Those tweets might include announcements about closures, community meetings, traffic alerts, events, links to media stories, project updates, and even photos.

Occasionally, the District 7 Twitter feed includes “retweets,” which are tweets created by other Twitter users and then copied into a District 7 tweet. For example, District 7 might retweet a tweet sent by another Caltrans district that motorists in District 7 would find helpful. Additionally, District 7 sometimes retweets pertinent messages from partner agencies and news stories related to Caltrans projects. And sometimes, other agencies retweet District 7 messages.

Twitter is proving to be especially useful in emergencies – landslides, sinkholes, tanker spills, and other freeway mishaps. It can take hours for information about an incident to get out using conventional media. With Twitter, followers are notified immediately. Many receive tweets on their smart phones, so the feed can reach them almost anywhere.

“It’s so easy to check Twitter,” said Jovel. “You don’t have to log on to your computer. You don’t have to turn on a television or buy a newspaper. The news comes to you wherever you are. So, followers stay informed without having to do anything. It’s pretty effortless.”

So who, exactly, are District 7’s followers? Many are key stakeholders – people we want to connect with, like community groups, elected officials, other agencies, and residents in areas where Caltrans is doing work. Numerous media outlets follow District 7, as well as departments of transportation in other states. Other followers include real estate agents, restaurants, biking enthusiasts, several asphalt suppliers, an Oregon-based plastics firm, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, a French dictionary publisher.

Not only does Twitter allow District 7 to reach a wide range of people, it also has another alluring characteristic that conventional mass communication channels like newspapers and broadcasting don’t share: Twitter is free.

If you’re not already getting District 7’s Twitter feed, it’s easy to sign up. Go to twitter.com and click on “sign up” to create an account. Then type “Caltransdist7” in the search box to bring up the District 7 Twitter page and click on the “follow” box.

Got some news that would make a good tweet? Contact Yessica Jovel at (213) 897-1876 or yessica_jovel@dot.ca.gov.

District 7 tweets -- about three to eight every week -- might include announcements about closures, community meetings, traffic alerts, events, links to media stories, project updates, and even photos. One of the benefits of using Twitter is that smart phone users can read District 7's tweets almost anywhere. Want to follow District 7 on Twitter? Go to twitter.com and click on “sign up” to create an account. Then type “Caltransdist7” in the search box to bring up the District 7 Twitter page and click on the “follow” box.