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Social Innovator Series: Jeremy Bertrand

In our Social Innovators series, we highlight leaders who use data and creativity to build world-class social marketing organizations. Here’s Jeremy Bertrand’s story.

Jeremy Bertrand
Jeremy Bertrand Digital Strategist, WSDOT

Who knew talking traffic for an hour would be so fun?

Jeremy Bertrand discussed his role at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) leading digital strategy and social media efforts. WSDOT has been so successful that if you compare the reach of Seattle media, they have the third largest audience in the state of Washington, only KING 5 and the Seattle Times being in the first two spots. Jeremy said humor drives his strategy and keeping travelers and commuters in the Pacific Northwest both informed and entertained are his main priorities.

Jeremy’s social media team provides content across various social channels—including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn—to an audience of nearly 335,000. During our conversation with Jeremy, he provided some useful tips for digital marketers.

Pro Tip #1: Make an Emotional Connection

Jeremy told us that, as a news organization, it would be very easy for WSDOT to use social media to simply tell its audience that yet another collision occurred on I-5 North, but no one would want to engage with that type of content. He mentioned that he felt very lucky that he has the freedom to create a strong voice on social—one that can make jokes about random things like oatmeal or the more obvious morning commute.

“The best way I can get audience growth is to create that emotional connection—and that’s where humor comes in.”

WSDOT Goats on InstagramTo help clear some brush along SR 520, WSDOT recruited goats who were able to get clear the work zone for their “human teammates.”

WSDOT Memorial

Emotional connections aren’t always humorous, however. WSDOT generated an emotional response from its audience by sharing an image of white roses and hardhats to remember the workers they’ve lost,which also served as a reminder to drive safe and slow down around work zones.

Pro Tip #2: Determine Which Content Matters

Emotional connection isn’t enough. As a social marketer, you have to reach the right audience at the right time,through the right channel. Jeremy spends about an hour each day looking through analytics and listening to his audience to determine the best time of days to reach his audiences. Video, as the latest trend in social media, definitely has peak performance times, but isn’t always the best method to communicate with his audience, Jeremy said.

Sometimes the WSDOT audience would watch about 30 seconds of a video and drop off before any of the important information was shared. And as a government agency, he joked that people aren’t as keen to sit through his videos anyway.

“Everyone says, “Try video. Try video. Try video— we are a government agency and had to try to be clever, getting interesting people behind the screen to relate to our audience.”

While WSDOT posts videos periodically, Jeremy said much of the agency’s time is spent sharing updates on road conditions, closures, collisions, and other traffic calamities, with those clever jokes and stories placed in between to increase engagement and lighten the mood.

WSDOT’s social content is relatable and creates a sense of community by celebrating local landmarks, holidays, and local professional sports teams—while staying true to their brand.

“We want them to know that we care about the same things we do, that we’re not just a government organization, we’re real people who are here listen, engage and help.”

WSDOT Profile Branding

Pro Tip #3: Adjust Your Strategy to Reach the Right Audience

Jeremy said you can sometimes only guess at who will be affected most by traffic changes. A closure on I-5 near Seattle, for example, might not only affect those commuting around Seattle, but potentially could reach Tacoma, Olympia, and even as far down as Portland. In cases where WSDOT determines there could be very high impact closures, the best method, according to Jeremy, is to saturate social to reach the maximum audience.

“Our goal is to make sure that our users have the information they need to avoid construction or closure related traffic jams. We need to share our messages everywhere because you just never know who’s going to get them or where they’re going to get them from.”

Jeremy’s social media team manages 10 region-specific Twitter accounts that provide followers with traffic and travel conditions that directly impact that area. Often, more than one area can be affected by adverse travel conditions, and multiple Twitter accounts will need to share out the same pieces of information.

Jeremy said they used to have just one Twitter account, but realized that they were sending out too many tweets and didn’t want to risk not reaching the appropriate audience because one account was oversaturated with information that wasn’t relevant to every person. WSDOT periodically checks in with their audience to ensure that user needs, beyond agency needs, are also being met and uses that feedback to shift content strategy.

Getting information to the right people also means sharing information through the right channels. Jeremy mentioned that in the Greater King County area, WSDOT experiences very low traffic on YouTube but sees high levels of engagement on Twitter and Facebook – so they aligned their strategies accordingly. To be successful on social requires constant readjustment and tailoring your content to where your audience holds their conversations and what type of content resonates the most.

WSDOT ReRoute WSDOT ReRoute Facebook

Prior to the closure of Padden Parkway in Vancouver, WA, WSDOT made sure to share important information on multiple platforms in order to reach the greatest audience and urge people to find alternate, safer routes.

Pro Tip #4: Always Respond When You Can

Jeremy joked that as a government agency, 70-80% of the audience users are mad at them when they engage on social, complaining about long commutes and traffic jams.

“We can’t base our success on the sentiment of our audience because traffic jams generally upset most people. What we do care about is maximizing our reach so that we can redirect enough people away from avoid troublesome travel areas.”

Sentiment isn’t always on their side, but what really matters is that people find alternate routes on roadways and get to their destinations on time. However, Jeremy says he makes it a point to always respond to people on social.

One of the most beautiful and unique characteristics of social media is its ability to engage users and create a  dialogue between businesses, brands, organizations, and their followers. Jeremy said that he makes it a point to respond to as many people on social as possible, whether that means calming a frustrated driver stuck in traffic or commenting on a friendly post. Jeremy also mentioned that the WSDOT always tries to respond publicly, giving a sense of transparency between WSDOT and the public.

Jeremy’s approach to social media is unique—as a government entity, WSDOT isn’t selling a product or service or trying to win customers, so they’ve got to be creative to engage their audience and make sure their messages are reaching the right people. WSDOT’s primary purpose on social is to disperse information to as many people in order to keep the public safe during their travels. They are able to engage their audience by making an emotional connection, using the right channels for their varying demographics, delivering content that resonates, and responding to their followers as much as possible.

Interested in learning more from our social innovators? Abbey Daniel, Senior Account Executive at Assembly, Inc. encourages social marketers to set clear goals on social and use new technology to reach those goals.

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Bryan Blackburn

Bryan is the Content Marketing Manager at Simply Measured. He spoils his dog, is a fitness fanatic, and loves research and writing.

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