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Social Media is a broad term that refers to multiple digital communication platforms used for networking and social interaction. The importance of these online channels for marketing cannot be overstated, as they represent a sea change in how people consume media and interact with brands. As traffic safety advocates, it’s essential to integrate social media into our marketing strategy because our target audiences live, work and play online.

Social media is:

  • A conversation not a presentation
  • Digital dialogue not a mass-marketing monologue
  • Consumer-generated content
  • The primary source of news for younger demographics
  • A mobile-first platform – mobile traffic for nearly all social media channels trumps traffic from desktops

Here’s a look at the primary social media platforms for communicating highway safety messages:


With over 300 hours of videos uploaded a minute, YouTube has something for everyone and is the world’s most popular online video community. Established in 2005 as a destination to watch and share original videos on the Internet, YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, now reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. While it attracts an even split of women and men, YouTube is still fairly male dominated. Men spend 44% more time on the site per month, and of 51 categories of YouTube content measured by OpenSlate, men make up the majority of viewers in 90% of them. In aggregate, YouTube has a huge audience, reaching 81.2% of Internet users in the U.S., according to comScore data. Unsurprisingly, younger visitors tend to spend more time on the site.


Facebook is a social networking website launched in 2004 by students at Harvard and opened to the general public in 2006 that allows users to post status updates, photos and videos on their “walls” as well as links to external content. Users create personal profiles and build networks of “friends” who have access to their information. Facebook friends can send private messages, join common interest groups and “Like” fan pages set up by brands. According to Pew Internet Research, 72% of online American adults use Facebook, a proportion unchanged from September 2014. Usage continues to be especially popular among online women, 77% of whom are users. In addition, 82% of online adults ages 18 to 29 use Facebook, along with 79% of those ages 30 to 49, 64% of those ages 50 to 64 and 48% of those 65 and older.


Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to share life’s moments through taking pictures and videos, sharing them and also linking them to a variety of other social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. It is a highly artistic channel, with users choosing filters to transform their images into memories. The Pew Research Center states some 28% of online adults use Instagram, a proportion that is unchanged from the 26% of online adults who did so in September 2014. Instagram continues to be popular with non-whites and young adults: 55% of online adults ages 18 to 29 use Instagram, as do 47% of African Americans and 38% of Hispanics. Additionally, online women continue to be more likely than online men to be Instagram users (31% vs. 24%). In fact, according to the Internet Trends Report, Instagram is considered the most important social network by more American teens (at 32%) than any other network.


Twitter is a microblogging platform of 140-character messages that are similar to Facebook updates but shorter. Established in 2006, Twitter is an open platform for sharing information, rather than the invitation-only format of Facebook, although users can “lock” their Twitter accounts and screen their followers if they choose. In general, Twitter usage skews older than Facebook and users are keenly interested in world events, news and politics. Stories routinely break on Twitter now rather than via mainstream news, as there is virtual saturation among journalists and news media. According to Pew Internet Research, some 23% of all online adults use Twitter, a proportion that is identical to the 23% of online adults who did so in September 2014. Internet users living in urban areas are more likely than their suburban or rural counterparts to use Twitter. Three-in-ten online urban residents use the site, compared with 21% of suburbanites and 15% of those living in rural areas. Twitter is more popular among younger adults — 30% of online adults under 50 use Twitter, compared with 11% of online adults ages 50 and older.


Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, and discover new interests by posting (known as “pinning” images or videos to their own or others' boards (i.e. a collection of “pins,” usually with a common theme) and browsing what other users have pinned. Pinterest is a channel where users create boards, pin and share in an aspirational and motivational nature. According to Pew Internet Research, some 31% of online adults use Pinterest, a proportion that is unchanged from the 28% of online adults who did so in September 2014. Women continue to dominate Pinterest – 44% of online women use the site, compared with 16% of online men. Those under the age of 50 are also more likely to be Pinterest users – 37% do so, compared with 22% of those ages 50 and older.


A blog is a web log or online public diary written for others to read. You’re all familiar with “Fast Lane” – the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Blogs enable you to get your message out to a wider audience, position yourself as an expert in your field, gain trust among your target audiences and their influencers and leverage search engine optimization for your brand. Blogs are dynamic platforms, easy to syndicate and disseminate via other social networking channels.

Monetization of Social Media Platforms

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are all experimenting with different levels of embedded advertising in addition to fan pages and corporate accounts. Blogs vary in their use of paid placement, endorsements and digital banners to promote brands. While these platforms are built around consumer-generated content and peer-to-peer interaction, their growth has turned them into media channels where marketers must “pay to play” – in other words, you will see the best success with a mix of posts from your organization, the sharing of user-generated content and purchasing advertising space within each channel.

Power to the People

Social media is a unique blend of sociology not technology. Human relationships are fueled by the technology utilized to facilitate these online communities. Additionally, social media is not a stand-alone marketing strategy – it’s an integral part of a holistic, multi-channel marketing plan. When you engage consumers via social media, you should talk like a friend, not a brand, in the vernacular particular to each social channel.

Finally, because social media is a “web of interconnected minds” it’s the perfect place for social norming messages to affect change. The implications of positive peer pressure via social networking indicate a high degree of message credibility, since users decide with whom to interact. Social media can be a positive force through which traffic safety organizations can mobilize the power of group dynamics to help individuals improve their lives.