ODOT Learns Twitter The Hard Way

This is the response received from Saxsum|PR Friday, Oct. 30th, 3:42 PM. My original blog post follows. — Mandy
Social media is a very effective communications tool if used strategically and appropriately.  Per our proposal and contract with ODOT (which are both public documents available from the State upon request), we are assisting ODOT develop and implement a strategy to enhance their communications efforts through a Twitter pilot project.  From developing the overall strategy, specific guidelines and performance metrics, to designing and establishing the account and training staff, we are helping ODOT provide the public with the most up-to-date information on state highways and bridges.  We began our work on Oct. 6 and are continuing to provide counsel, evaluate this new means of communications and recommend next steps. 
At Saxum, we take pride in providing value-added services to our clients and believe we have and continue to add value for ODOT through this project. 

——— original post ———-

ODOT paid $7,500 for SaxsumPR to set up their account and “spend about 10 days” with their employees teaching them how to use the service.
After 2 weeks, they had 552 followers
ODOT tweets traffic delays, congestion and other traffic issues.
Saxsum “will be helping ODOT track their effectiveness and track their Twitter following”
Saxsum says the account is going to save ODOT money through manpower savings: Not staffing phones like they would otherwise, not sending people to congested areas as they would be doing otherwise.

See KFOR’s news story here:

Twitter commentary was quite negative over the expenditure, as evidenced by tweets with the #okdot hashtag. When @saxsumPR got involved, hours after the controversy started, they promised to e-mail me their comments after conferring with their client. So far, nothing… and then they responded to a Twitter/Social Media crisis with a TV interview. Ouch… and I’m still waiting on that e-mail. Granted, it’s only Tuesday, but there’s been some time for a public response, as evidenced by the interview on KFOR.

One of my biggest challenges with this is that the main argument of Saxsum of value provided is dollars being saved because ODOT’s staffing requirement is now reduced through sharing information via Twitter.

How large is Oklahoma’s driving public?

There are 2,819,781 people 16 and over in Oklahoma… and ODOT is responsible for providing all of them with transportation related information. Unless ODOT is the most retweeted Twitter account EVER (and they’re not), 552 followers does not mean ODOT can reduce staff and still keep the same level of service to the other 2,819,229 people they serve.
I believe Twitter is a valuable information-sharing tool. I believe ODOT is right to attempt to share information this way. I believe planning for success and sometimes paying for help achieving it is necessary for any business to achieve its goals. And I don’t believe that, based on what I know at this point, the taxpayers were best served by this level of expenditure.

If additional information becomes available, I may revise my opinion…. in the meantime… please share yours!

Driving public statistic from Claritas, vintage March 2009, estimated population 16+ for state of Oklahoma.

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7 Responses to “ODOT Learns Twitter The Hard Way”

  1. Nicole Nascenzi October 27, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Great post! I think there is a lot of value that an PR agency can bring to a government entity in the social media sphere but that Saxum missed the boat on the TV interview….in terms of only talking about manpower ODOT saves.

    • Mandy Vavrinak October 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm #

      Nicole, I definitely believe government entities can (and do!) benefit from professional PR and now social media services. I want to be fair to a firm I believe to be truly a high-quality PR provider… but I think they mismanaged their own crisis communication in this case.

      Mike, ODOT has been rigorous in its insistence that people NOT check their Twitter feed while driving. So provided you can presciently know what you’ll need to know 60 miles down the road, real-time traffic updates via Twitter before you leave the house makes perfect sense… 😉
      Actually, they also tweet longer-term problems (closures, road work) and I CAN definitely see the value in that information. Also, when my husband and I are in the car he usually drives. If we stumble into a traffic problem, he looks at me and says… “What does Twitter say?” and I start searching. So perhaps valuable that way, too?

  2. Mike Henry Sr. October 27, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    I’m amazed. Thanks for sharing this information but there are several failures here. I guess they’ll start buying billboards telling us all to check a Twitter client on our mobile phone while driving to find out what the road conditions are. Wow.

    Thanks, Mike…

  3. Emily Garman October 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm #

    I think this opens up a fascinating conversation among people who do social media about the monetary value of social media consulting and services. So many people are responding with “I can set up a twitter account in 20 minutes! How can they possibly charge that much?!”

    I suspect that Saxum is providing them with much more than just an account setup. And I also suspect (I’m just guessing here) that Saxum may have been advised not to comment to you (or anyone else) very much about their client and the process. I hear they may be going to release the contract with ODOT (it’s public record anyway) so everyone can see what services they are providing.

    At any rate, I like that Saxum has provided a value. they are saying, “yes, setting up a twitter account is free. But our expertise, our experience, the value we can provide you with a campaign, that is NOT free.” Our work needs to be valued and not constantly blown off as something “anyone can do.”

    I DO think that Renzi Stone came across as really arrogant in the Channel 4 interview, though, and defensive; that was a bummer for them.

    I’m loving this conversation!

    • Mandy Vavrinak October 27, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

      I agree Renzi’s response did not help them. And, I also think you’re right that Saxsum did more than “just set up a Twitter account.” I work with municipalities on some projects and it IS sometimes more difficult to get that entire ship moving in one direction. I really wish Saxsum had responded more effectively in the mediums where the conversations were happening.
      I think they are a talented and dynamic PR firm. That does not make them social media experts.
      I, too, think there is much value in this conversation and am watching it unfold… thanks for stopping by, Emily, and adding to the discussion here!

  4. Anna Cook November 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Public sector entities are attempting to understand and figure effective ways of utilizing social media. Currently understaffed and with little funds, they do not have the means or resources to dedicate staff to this. I think it is completely worthwhile for ODOT, a large agency needing to maintain a level of transparency, to invest in Saxum’s talent and resources.


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