Why Highways England turned to social media to fight off ‘Space Invaders’

Ask Sharon Creary, Head of Digital Content and Engagement at Highways England, what business problem she thought she could solve by turning to social media for a recent important road safety campaign, and you get a rather interesting answer:

Fortunately we did not have a problem – rather, we are always looking for new ways to deliver great customer service. When it comes to instantaneous customer service, social media is an ideal solution for us, as it is the most direct, instant form of communication to interact with customers and answer their queries. Placing increased emphasis on social media seemed the best way to not only increase rapport with our customers, but also to make sure our important updates were heard.

Which is true, of course – but it didn’t mean that her team, part of the UK government-owned organisation charged with overseeing Britain’s motorways and major A roads, didn’t treat an interesting national outreach campaign as something you wanted to knock up over a spare weekend, either:

While social media was certainly the best option, due to the scale of our network, there were numerous hurdles that needed to be overcome to ensure locally relevant information was delivered to customers. For one, our operational colleagues didn’t have an extensive knowledge or high enough level of training to use the channels and tools we wanted them to effectively; there are a lot of people internally involved with communicating information on congestion and accidents to the public via social media, but each individual needed a different type of access to our social accounts; and finally, there needed to be an overall consistency in our customer service.

Highways England’s aim is to provide all its customers – that’s us drivers and passengers – with safe and reliable journeys through the way we operate, maintaining and enhancing one of the most advanced road networks in the world. It used traditional methods of customer service, such as email, telephone and letters – but in 2018 decided to do something a bit different.

That was in its shape of its anti-tailgating Don’t be a Space Invader campaign, which was set up to show how one in eight of all road casualties are caused by people who drive too close to the vehicle in front, with more than 100 people killed or seriously injured each year, and which also needed to remind the driver that they should allow at least a two second gap between them and the car in front, a distance the Highway Code says should be doubled on wet roads.

For Creary, this was a huge chance to make some real impact on not just her traditional channels, but social, too:

Space Invaders – a collaboration between many teams in our communications directorate – aimed to show drivers the importance of leaving the right amount of space between cars and the potentially fatal consequences of not doing so. We released a video, alongside some statistics on the number of casualties caused by tailgating, as well as organic content shared across all social media platforms. Sharing the campaign on social was extremely important to the campaign’s success.

Limiting the over-engineering of social posts

Highways England also created social-media-friendly content that drove awareness of the issues of tailgating and led back to the campaign’s landing page, as well as encouraged road users to sign up for bumper stickers which also carried the campaign messages.

And it seems to have worked: ‘Don’t be a Space Invader’ got more than 900,000 video views on Facebook alone, and the campaign landing page saw an impressive 13% conversion rate for bumper stickers ordered, which ended up being more than 80,000 in total.

To achieve these great results, Creary and her team managed the campaign via the Hootsuite Enterprise social media management platform. When asked why:

We use this software to aid us in ramping up our social for both our customer service and our marketing campaigns such as Space Invaders, as well as to help us seamlessly manage and unify our social efforts. We have a licence for 450 users across various locations who are all at different levels within the business.

Using Hootsuite, we not only have a unified view of all our social interactions, accounts and customer queries, we also have the ability to granularly structure permission functions so we can give the appropriate level of social access to different teams and individuals. Using it also means we can give different people approval workflows to minimise over-engineering social posts and communications. And while we have always operated a 24/7, 365 days a year service on social, we now have the capability to run this service centrally through Hootsuite while simultaneously looking after seven regions.

That matters, she points out, as that since there’s no time English roads aren’t being used, being able to respond to tweets within a reasonable time means that audiences are kept up to date on the latest news and developments on the country’s motorways and major A roads at all times:

Having a tool that gives employees the ability to monitor conversations about traffic and respond to local customer queries in a timely manner is important. Hootsuite’s Enterprise platform offers round-the-clock support which was important to us being an always-on platform: it didn’t matter what time of day it was, we have to be able to communicate quickly with members of the public about issues such as accidents which would affect their journeys.

Learning and development

She also likes the way her team is able to provide near real-time updates to audiences to keep them up-to-date with the latest traffic information, as well as the approach the company took to on boarding staff on the system:

The vendor offered custom webinar-led training sessions and built a learning and engagement plan to enable all our employees to understand and utilise the tool to its fullest potential. This training was a strategic requirement for us, so our employees were only given access to the tool once they had completed the training with Hootsuite Academy. This level of training meant our staff were able to spread the message of the work Highways England does, in turn becoming the biggest advocates for our company and adding weight and credibility to our campaigns.

Highways England has extended its relationship with the software, and now uses it as a core tool in all of its marketing, she told diginomica/government – with a 27% increase in Twitter followers since it was first used in October 2017. Social is now definitely a key plank in its entire strategy, she confirms:

We are focused on customer satisfaction, so we would like to see people using our service receiving the best information possible to help them with their journeys and to understand Highways England. We also want to empower our operational colleagues to continuously improve on the work that they do by monitoring their performance, encouraging prompt responses, and advising on best practice in customer services and digital.

Plus, providing our colleagues with local knowledge of our network to operate our regional Twitter channels should result in more relevant conversations, better engagement and increasingly higher levels of customer satisfaction in the short to long term.

This is the start of our journey and we are looking forward to seeing how this evolves: as part of our strategic approach to social, we are always looking at better ways to measure outcomes, continually improve and gain a clear understanding of what road users expect of our channels, so that we can meet their needs whilst enabling us to meet our business objectives.


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