Best Practices in Social Media

Lyndsey Scofield, an urban planning graduate student in New York City, tipped me off to a recent virtual workshop held by the National Academies of Science’s Transportation Research Board.  This workshop, entitled “Keeping up with Communication Technology: An Online Workshop on the Practical Use of Social Media,” gathered together 22 transportation professionals who shared their professional uses of things like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. In my experience, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) would not be the first group to come to mind when thinking about these more nuanced uses of social media tools.  Nonetheless, they put together an engaging array of presentations and resources on the topic as it relates to the transportation industry.  At least three of the presenters had been involved in MIT’s PlanningTech@DUSP conference this past January, a student-led half-day conference on urban planning and technology, so it is encouraging to see the insights of a few newer, younger urban planners trickling up into the collective consciousness of the TRB.

Ironically, I found one of the most interesting resources provided by the workshop to be “The Extreme Presentation,” a guide for developing engaging, persuasive, relevant, and action-inducing presentations.  If there’s one thing I have learned in grad school, it is that you either know how to leverage the value of PowerPoint or you don’t.  Most people don’t, and no matter how engaging the topic may be (e.g. a proposed new light rail through your neighborhood), poor use of a good tool will lead to a disengaged audience and a failed presentation.

The link between PowerPoint presentations and social media comes in their potential to create an impact.  The Extreme Presentation provides 10 steps, organized within 4 themes that produce this impact: politics and metrics, logic, rhetoric, and graphics.  Social media outlets involve each of these themes as well.  Outreach through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc, will be more effective if it includes a proper identification of audience, evidence-backed information presented in a way that is both relevant and visually stimulating to readers or listeners.  I know I could learn a lot from this strategy, and I’m happy that an institution as far-reaching as TRB embraces the concept as well.

- ­Terra Curtis