Want tips on how to use social media for your public sector organisation? Russel Lolacher and the communications teams at  the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in Canada can help.

The teams, of which Russel is Social Media Director, are working to increase the ministry’s engagement and online presence through TranBC and DriveBC. TranBC engages in conversations with BC residents and DriveBC provides useful traffic and weather information.

Tell us briefly what you and your team do day-to-day

From a day-to-day perspective, the social team is:

  • Engaging on and monitoring our six social platforms
  • Promoting transportation news and announcements
  • Guiding our regional Twitter accounts (@DriveBC, 10 @TranBC accounts like TranBC_LM) in sharing timely, geo-relevant information
  • Executing an online social strategy around a particular campaign (currently Shift into Winter until end of February, previously the 50th Anniversary of the Trans Canada Highway)
  • Content creation: blog writing, video production and editing, website creation and copywriting
  • External stakeholder outreach,  consultation and discussion around common content and interests (Vancouver International Airport, BC Ferries etc).

More is entailed in our work but it extends far beyond the day-to-day, including gathering and analyzing analytics, internal stakeholder outreach and developing workshops.

Who is the team composed of?

My group consists of two teams: one dedicated to the web design and online presence of the ministry and its many interests and stakeholders, the other focusing on social communications and content creation for the ministry on a corporate level.

Our extended “family” includes the Government Communications and Public Engagement organization which works on public relations and news for the government. As well, we work with each sector of the ministry within headquarters (marine, transit etc.) and throughout our 11 BC districts, to share their information or to support them in doing it themselves.

What social media and web communications channels does TranBC use?

Currently, we use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Youtube, Foursquare, Pinterest and a blog to communicate with the public. We are continually looking at where the travelling public spend their time online in case we need to join new or existing conversations, or start them somewhere else. We have no plans to expand beyond these platforms at this time.

We also have a monthly survey question we ask called “Tell TranBC” which is posted through the TranBC.ca blog. A question regarding webcam locations gathered approximately 800 submissions.

Of course, we use Paper.li as well.

What are the overall goals of your social media efforts?

The ministry’s goals we are most aligned with are to provide excellent customer service and to a safe and reliable highway system. Our team supports these goals through our various objectives: to increase public awareness around the ministry’s activities; build and engage a community around BC Transportation; enhance public relations with our customers and stakeholders; enhance customer service through proactive and reactive communications; and facilitate research and development through crowdsourcing and monitoring of the travelling public on social media.

What feedback do you receive – how do people find your social media activity helpful?

The feedback we receive around our online presence, both from internal and external stakeholders, has always been positive. Whether it’s a remark from a trucker that we use to put a “human face” on the ministry, or a local city councillor who feels better informed around a transit project due to our tweets, we have received solid support from the public and our related organizations.

In 2011, we used social media to share information around three major events: a road washout in the remote town of Stewart, a one-in-40-years flood in the Peace region, and a mudslide on Highway #1. During those events, traffic to our Flickr photos, engagement on Twitter (DriveBC and TranBC) and contributions on Facebook (the Stewart community page) were welcomed and shared by the public and our own staff to tell the stories of the incidents, answer questions and provide context for travellers.

What is the goal of your Paper.li paper?

Our Paper.li is a great way for us to highlight the news and initiatives of stakeholders in the BC Transportation sector. It’s a one-stop weekly newspaper that provides a snapshot of the latest news from transportation organizations like BC Ferries, Translink, BC Transit, and Port Metro Vancouver.

It allows us to consolidate their news and Twitter feeds with our own, to build a stronger relationship with our stakeholders online and better inform the public.

Tell us more about how you use it.

Every Tuesday, we review the content the Paper.li has auto-compiled and edit according to what news is most relevant that week and what media is more eye-catching. We delete any stories that aren’t timely and, being aware that some Twitter accounts are more active than others, we look to ensure all stakeholders have a voice, as equal as possible.

The “Editor’s Note” is our opportunity to highlight our own initiatives and news. Currently we are promoting the Shift into Winter campaign and included the hashtag and relevant links in our Paper.li editions.

What tips or lessons could you share with other government organisations?

The number one question I would suggest any organization, government or not, to ask is “WHY”. Why should they use social media to engage with their public? Social media is a tool, a medium of communication, and should be seen as such. Are the people you are trying to reach on social platforms? If they aren’t, you may be wasting your time. If they are, which ones? Join the conversations where your customers/audience are, and if there isn’t a conversation, maybe look to start one.

I would also recommend that to be successful, social media can’t be something the new intern does off the side of their desk. If you are set up on social platforms, you are speaking for the entire organization to the world (including media). Ensure your people are using these tools, and have the necessary training, support and communications skills.

Can you share any insights for making best use of Paper.li?

To really use Paper.li effective, you must know a few things:

A) Why are you using this product? If you don’t have a goal, you can’t know if your successful or how to manage it.

B) Is your audience or is the information you’re gathering on Twitter? A Paper.li is only as good as its content and if there isn’t much to curate, you’re going to have a very boring product. And if your audience isn’t even on Twitter, will they see it? Is there another way you can share a Paper.li besides through tweeting? Answer: yes, such as Facebook, Pinterest and your blog.

C) Is this how your audience wants you to communicate with them? We have gone with a weekly Paper.li as many people in my experience see a daily as too “spammy.”

Photo credits: main photo courtesy of TranBC Flickr, Russel’s photo courtesy of RussLol.

Liz Wilson
Liz Wilson writes copy in the Marketing Communications team at Orange Switzerland and used to edit this blog. She likes talking about content, copywriting and social media on her personal blog.

Published by


2 Responses to “Social Media Helps Keep Travellers on the Road”

  1. Paper.li

    Hey Russel, the pleasure is all ours! It would be interesting to understand how your strategy or tactics have changed over the past 12 months.

    Are you seeing a shift in activities on one social platform over another? Are there any that you’ve found just aren’t working for you so you’ve switched?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *