Social Media: the TIRES Experience

What is Social Media?

Social media refers to online information transfer/communication that anyone can use, whereas, traditional media, such as newspaper or radio, is professionally produced. Examples of social media are: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube, wikis and many others including new outlets that are continually being added. Health and safety specialists around the world are embracing social media as the best way to reach target audiences with information relevant to their needs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The use of social media tools is a powerful channel to reach target audiences with strategic, effective and user-centric health interventions."

Benefits of social media are that topics and questions are user-generated conversations that can be steered wherever the interest proceeds. Users can drop in and out, steer the conversation or begin a new one. They can be anonymous or have an online personality. Information transfers instantly and spreads exponentially. It allows those with similar and overlapping interests to develop a support community of not only information transfer but also social closeness and interaction.

Drawbacks of social media include that anyone can say anything at any time. Rumor and speculation can transfer instantly, with the community given the responsibility to check out and edit it for correctness.

Another drawback is the learning curve associated with new users. Each social media site has developed its own set of acceptable norms and shortcuts. Stress/offense can be caused among the community as new users stumble through learning each new system.

SHARP and social media

SHARP dove into the realm of social media first through the Trucking Injury Reduction Emphasis (TIRES) project. The TIRES steering committee recommended TIRES involvement because the stakeholders that we are trying to impact (truck drivers) spend a lot of time physically alone, so they often maintain friend and family networks via social media platforms.

But does it work?

In fall 2011, TIRES launched three forms of outreach: a YouTube video, the TIRES blog and the @TruckSafe Twitter account. Impacts have been monitored by keeping track of "followers" of each media type and also based on independent hits to the TIRES web site (www.KeepTruckingSafe.org) and those who have requested the TIRES E-news.

Before Social Media, TIRES outreach consisted of the www.KeepTruckingSafe website, a monthly electronic newsletter (TIRES E-news) distributed to our listserv and participation in various events including the Annual Washington Trucking Associations' Truck Driving Championship and the World's Largest Convoy to benefit the Special Olympics.
Line graph shows website traffic for TIRES before and after use of social media by number of unique visitors. Compares those who have visited the TIRES site on Washington state Labor & Industries website that is not linked to social media and those who have visited the collaborative site of www.KeepTruckingSafe.org between April of 2011 and April of 2012. The L&I site stayed fairly stable at 900 to 700 visitors per month. The collaborative site showed growth, beginning at 600 visitors and ending at nearly 1400 visitors.

Tracking impacts

Although there is some confusion on how best to track the impact of social media, we believe that the graph above is a good representation of how this outreach is increasing the traffic to the TIRES collaborative web site by tracking unique visitors to the site. As you can see, the blue line that tracks visits to L&I (not linked to social media) has stayed fairly flat, whereas the orange line that is associated with the TIRES social media outreach is increasing.

While we cannot definitively say that our social media outreach is responsible for all of the increase in visitors to our website, we believe it has had a significant positive impact on our ability to reach a larger targeted audience, while using minimal resources. One case in point, as noted below, is that according to TweetReach (a Twitter impact tracking source) we were able to reach 9,000 accounts with our safety messages even though we have less than 200 followers. This was possible because when any of our followers Retweet (resend our message to their distribution list of followers) then we have exponentially expanded our reach.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report in 2011, Social Networking Sites and Our Lives, "Social networks are places where people gather information from experts and peers to help them make health decisions." They noted that nearly half of adults (47%) used at least one social networking site in 2010, which nearly doubles the 26% who used them in 2008.  Getting safety and health information to workers who need it, when they need it, via social media, is the trend and it appears to be working. With the rapid spread of smart phones, another Pew research survey Just-in-time Information through Mobile Connections has shown that almost 50% of smart phone users have used their phones in the past month to obtain real-time data to solve problems.

TIRES outreach as of May 2, 2012

Twitter

Launched on October 20, 2011, located @TruckSafe, Followers 174, Following 191, 922 Tweets, according to a TweetReach report, from April 25th- May 1st of 2012, with 50 tweets, we were able to reach almost 9,000 accounts. Cool!
Click here: https://twitter.com/#!/TruckSafe

YouTube

Video launched 11/01/2011, located at YouTube Video, 1145 Views, 5 Subscribers
Click here: http://www.youtube.com/user/keeptruckingsafe

TIRES blog

Launched 11/01/2011, located at TIRES blog, 49 posts, 615 views
Click here: http://tires.lni.wa.gov/

Sign up to receive the monthly TIRES E-news here: http://www.Lni.wa.gov/Safety/Research/Trucking/SignUp/Default.asp

More information on social media

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Media Tools, Guidelines & Best Practices

http://www.cdc.gov/SocialMedia/Tools/guidelines/index.html

PEW Internet

Social Networking Sites and Our Lives
http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2011/Social-networking-sites-and-our-lives.aspx

Just-in-time Information through Mobile Connections
http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Just-in-time.aspx

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