ADOT Twitter at 200,000: It began with no plan, no policy, no permission

ADOT Twitter at 200,000: It began with no plan, no policy, no permission

October 5, 2017

By Tim Tait / ADOT Communications

At first, I tracked followers on an index card, each week documenting the number of people who chose to engage with @ArizonaDOT on Twitter (@ADOT was already taken).

We quickly outgrew the index card. It turned out that Twitter was the perfect forum for sharing traffic information, and an audience took notice.

That was 2008.

I launched the Twitter account on a whim. There was no plan. We didn’t have the usual bureaucratic policies, procedures and rules for something like this. And there was no permission. I just dove in, not really understanding how Twitter worked, how ADOT would use it or how this new platform would change two-way communication between the agency and our customers.

There were some hard lessons, like discovering the replies from people who tweeted back at me (sorry!), or the one time I sent a tweet from the wrong account (oops!). But these were the early days. The audience was small and forgiving.

For a few years, it was just me, tweeting away based on text messages from the ADOT Traffic Operations Center, sometimes with limited information. I kept up as best I could during work and non-work hours, but there were gaps.

Then came a big snowstorm about six years ago.

Drivers were stranded on I-17 and I-40 for hours as weather pounded northern Arizona and plows struggled to clear a path. The az511 website and phone systems crashed under the pressure. Social media – Twitter and Facebook – provided an important link between ADOT and motorists on the highway.

The weekend storm made for some long hours, keeping people updated on the weather, the progress of plowing operations and providing reassurance that they were not forgotten. It also made clear the power of Twitter – and the need to bolster our approach to handling it.

ADOT doesn’t have a “social media manager.” Instead, we have a team of public information officers based at the Traffic Operations Center today who keep an eye on statewide traffic conditions and provide real-time updates to drivers using a variety of tools. Twitter is an important part of the mix, but we try to reach out beyond the 200,000 who follow us there.

Twitter has also opened up an important destination for two-way communication. No longer are we sending messages without listening. Today, we hear you and we seek out your comments on social media to engage issues, provide information and uncover solutions. Graffiti, potholes, roadside debris, weeds and other issues now come to us via Twitter, allowing ADOT crews to respond faster.

I still have that index card charting our early follower numbers. It’s a good reminder of our humble beginnings – and our potential for the future.

Timothy Tait is ADOT’s communications director. Reach him on Twitter @ttait.