Communications Manual

 

Branding and communication philosophy

Our agency’s communication philosophy

WSDOT communications is an integral piece of our agency’s work and how we accomplish our mission to provide and support safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation options to improve livable communities and economic vitality for people and businesses.

Several foundational elements drive our ability to communicate clearly and effectively with the people we work with including:

  • Everyone is a communicator – every employee is a communicator and contributor to the communities in which they work and live. Internal communications are important to keep employees informed on what we are doing and where we are going as an agency because employees are often asked by friends and family about what they do and who they work for.
  • Engage early, often – relationships and how we engage people are important. Our efforts should be inclusive and our work should reflect engagement wherever possible. We cannot manage the system, modes and programs we operate in a silo and successfully meet the needs of those we serve.
  • Be accountable, transparent – we can’t avoid bad headlines, but we can manage them. A solid media strategy, a communications plan based on transparency and accountability and being the first, best source of information are keys to managing tough issues and minimizing damage to the public’s perception of our work. It’s better to be a big story for a few days than a constant trickle of stories for a few months.
  • Use all the tools – as technology and ways people consume information evolve, communicators use a number of traditional and digital tools to inform and engage the public. As you develop a communications strategy, you should consider all tools – traditional and new – to determine how to best reach your desired audience.
  • No surprises, clearly state your intent – our work is not possible without working with others, and the environment in which we work often changes. It’s important to engage partners and stakeholders – internal and external to the agency – and build trust. Make sure your intentions are clear and transparent and keep people informed so there are no surprises. What you say and do matters and impacts the quality of relationships and public perception of the work we do.
  • A consistent brand is important – consistency in how we communicate, the tools we use, the messages we deliver and the visual appeal of the products we create is critical to the OneDOT brand. Our brand is how people visually identify our agency and in turn generates an emotional reaction from the residents we serve.

The Communications Manual is an important resource that directs communicators and other agency staff to useful tools and resources that build and maintain the foundational elements of our agency communications program. It will evolve as our work, tools and the environment in which we operate changes and should be considered a living document.

Kris Rietmann
Communications Director

 

What is the WSDOT Brand?

A brand is what distinguishes our agency, our services, programs and projects from any other organization. It affects what people think about WSDOT when they see the agency’s name or logo – whether that perception is good or bad. Statewide consistency in how we communicate, the messages we deliver and the communication products we create help to reinforce the WSDOT brand. 

  • WSDOT Style Guide – The WSDOT Style Guide is intended to help agency writers present information in a clear and consistent manner, which reinforces the WSDOT brand, making it easier for our customers to understand and use the information we provide.
  • WSDOT Graphics Style Guide (pdf 4.9 mb) – The Graphics Style Guide describes and provides examples of acceptable logo use, colors, typography, photos and layouts. Consistent use of these visual elements reinforces the WSDOT brand.

 

Communications Team - Working with you for success

WSDOT’s professional communications team crosses the state. Representatives are available in each of its six regions and for many of the agency’s divisions, major programs and projects.

What does WSDOT’s communications team do?

  • Proactive, responsive media relations
  • Issue management
  • Crisis communications
  • Speech and presentation development
  • Media and speaker training
  • Social media engagement and monitoring
  • Key message development
  • Assistance with communication and event planning
  • Edit review for releases, reports, presentations and other publications
  • Serves as a clearinghouse for customer questions, comments and complaints

 

Deliver your message using the right communication tools

Your communications professionals can help you develop communication strategies and suggest tools to deliver your message. Tools might include:

 

How do I work with communications staff?

Start your conversation with communications staff as soon as possible. If your project requires public engagement, or is controversial, highly visible, unique, politically charged or will affect travelers significantly, then contact your communications office in the early stages of planning. They can work with you to determine the best communication strategies and tools to use, and work with you to develop an action plan.

 

Working with the WSDOT Editing team

A team of WSDOT’s professional communicators share the duty of editing agency news releases to ensure consistency in agency style and messaging. All news releases and media advisories must have review and approval by the WSDOT Editing team prior to being distributed. (If you are not a member of the communications team, work through your region’s or program’s communications staff.)

Follow these steps to ensure a smooth editing process:

What do I need to do first?

  • Complete all program/region/project team reviews and edits; drafts should be as near to final as possible.
  • Send in a clean copy of the release, using the appropriate news release template, with all previous edits “accepted.” When editors receive content that is marked up, it becomes difficult to read and know what content should be edited. In addition, in a marked up version, typos and spacing issues can easily be missed.

What is the turnaround time?

  • Plan for a minimum 24-hour turnaround for editing. Editing team members all have their regular duties, in addition to editing, and this allows them to better manage their workload.
  • If you know you will have an urgent release that will come in without much lead time, give the editor a heads up so that they can adjust their schedule to be available, or help arrange for another editor to review, if needed.
  • Breaking news: When emergencies or unexpected events occur and your release needs an immediate review, call the editor to ensure they’ve received the release and are available. Editors keep a close watch on the news in-box during their editing shifts, but aren’t always at their desk throughout the entire day. If you can’t reach the editor, contact the Headquarters Communications Office (360-705-7075) for assistance or call another editor to arrange for emergency cover.
  • Releases that include a quote from the Secretary’s Office or the Governor’s Office require additional time for review and approval, so plan accordingly. Contact the communication director or deputy communication director as soon as possible for assistance in getting quote approval. The Secretary’s review for quote approval will occur after the release has been approved through the news release edit process.

Where do I send my release?

  • Releases are sent to the Communications News Draft email inbox; editors are announced at the beginning of each week, and copying the editor directly is advised.
  • You will continue to work with the same editor to finalize your release, even if a new weekly editor is assigned for the current week. We do this because we recognize that each editor has a different perspective, and in this way, we avoid “editing the edits.”

What happens in the editing process?
An editor will review your release and send it back with one of these actions noted:

  • Approved to send: There are no changes to your release and you are approved to distribute.
  • Approved with edits: If you accept the edits, you are approved to send the release. Editors are always open to discussing with you any questions, concerns or disagreements you might have with the proposed edit changes.
  • Pending edits: You may need to add, clarify or rewrite information, then send the release back for a second review; if you need to have a second internal review with your team, do this before sending it back for another edit review.
  • Needs rewrite: This is an indication that there are significant problems with your release; the editor will discuss the issues with you and offer some potential options or solutions.

 

Working with Graphic Communications

Working with WSDOT’s Graphic Communications team will ensure your documents meet agency branding and standards. Staff can also help you explore creative solutions and alternate ways to produce publications that save the agency time and money, so it’s important to involve them early in the planning process.

 

Working with Web Communications

WSDOT Web Communications creates, maintains and enhances a number of tools vital to our agency’s communication efforts that also impact the public’s perception of our agency overall.

We lead with the web. WSDOT’s web generates 60.5 million customer sessions per year; that’s roughly 165,000 per day. Our agency website is the foundation to our communication efforts as it is the most heavily trafficked tool.

What does the Web Communications Team do?

 

Working with the HQ Customer Service Office

WSDOT HQ Customer Service serves as a clearinghouse for inquiries. Staff respond to inquiries from the public and WSDOT employees through email, as well as by telephone, and refer questions to the many subject experts within the agency. If you receive email from a member of the public and don’t know who would be the best staff to respond, send the email to HQ Customer Service at hqcustomerservice@wsdot.wa.gov. We will make sure the email is sent to the appropriate subject expert.

If you receive an email directly from a member of the public and respond, you are not required to send a copy of that response to HQ Customer Service.

 

Communication Planning

Communication and community engagement planning takes time and effort; the more time you spend up front on your plan, the more effective you will be in reaching your goal. As soon as your organization or project team starts planning objectives and activities, you should also begin planning ways to communicate them.

 

What is a communication plan?

A communication plan can be part of a community engagement plan, or it can be a stand-alone document, depending on the size, scope and complexity of your project.

  • A communication plan is a living document that provides a framework and organization for actions that help you reach your communication goals. It is meant to be fluid and can expand and contract as changes in your project or program occur.
  • The communication plan describes what you are trying to accomplish through your communication messages and activities. Communication goals should be measurable and could include such things as:
    • Increasing customer visits to a website by x percent
    • Providing information to drivers in order to reduce traffic volumes by x percent
    • Raising employee awareness of a new process by holding x number of training classes
  • A communication plan can help team members be consistent in how they talk about the project/program/service by identifying key messages, audience, goals and desired outcomes. 
  • It helps team members stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish and clearly describes who will be responsible for doing what, by when.
  • The plan should also include contact information for each of the team members, potential risks, as well as contingency plans and opportunities.

Communication plan template (docx 28 kb)

 

What is a community engagement plan?

  • “Community engagement” is WSDOT’s term for our public involvement efforts. Our agency’s federally compliant public involvement plan is WSDOT’s Community Engagement Plan (pdf 3 mb)
  • A community engagement plan creates a framework that ensures all voices are heard, emphasizing the fair and meaningful involvement of all people including minority and low-income populations.
  • While a communication plan lays out what you are communicating, the community engagement plan focuses on how you will communicate and ensures people have a voice in the decision-making process.
  • Community engagement plans are developed to increase consent on decisions, enhance understanding and improve public access to information and decision making.

Resource: FHWA Transportation Public Involvement Guide

 

Special event planning - why should you host an event?

Special events can help us celebrate milestones, highlight achievements, introduce our customers to something new and build relationships within a community. They also require resources and advance planning, so the decision to host an event should not be made lightly.

Before deciding to host a special event, think about:

  • What is your communication goal – what are you trying to accomplish?
  • Who needs to be involved – are the right people at the table?
  • What budget and resources will be needed – who is paying for the event and are there partnerships that can be leveraged?
  • How you will promote your event – who is your audience and what tools might be used to get the word out?

Your special event planning efforts, timelines and budget should be commensurate to the size and scale of your project or service.

Some common reasons for hosting a special event include:

  • Celebrating project milestones: groundbreaking, starting a new phase of construction, project completion (example: keel laying, opening a new bridge)
  • Raising awareness of a product, service or program (example: new tolling passes, expanded rail service or Incident Response program)
  • Sharing information about how taxpayer money is being spent and the expected benefits of projects or services (example: a booth or fair display to talk about upcoming work in the community)
  • Educating our customers about how to use something that might be new or unique to them (example: roundabouts or variable speed signs)
  • Responding to requests from the Governor or legislators (example: highlighting Connecting Washington funded projects)

Project open houses and other community engagement meetings, require a different level of planning than special events and should follow the guidance provided in WSDOT’s Community Engagement Plan (pdf 3 mb).

 

Special event planning checklist

Even the most organized can forget something on event day. Plan ahead by using this list.

Draft an event plan
Use input from your project engineer to create a communications plan.

Get your plan approved
Make an appointment with your executives, project office staff and the communications director to review the event communications plan. Be prepared to talk about the following items:

Proposed dates for the event

  • Why are these dates important? 
  • Is there a risk this date may shift?

Project facts: Don’t assume everyone knows

  • Project key messages
  • The key benefits of this project
  • Safety record
  • Environmental record
  • All regular cost, benefit, on-time, on-budget issues
  • How was this project funded?
  • Is this project controversial for any reason?
  • Did this project overcome any challenges during construction?
  • Traffic info: traffic volume, crash data etc.

Invite list: Speakers and non-speakers

  • Share and discuss the draft invite text
  • Who was invited to attend/speak and why?
  • Legislative district (have names and faces of dignitaries)
  • Stakeholders who should be acknowledged by elected officials or the Secretary of Transportation and why
  • Identify who is tracking RSVPs and speaking order

Logistics

  • Event script beginning to end
  • Event location and lay out
  • What’s your visual for the media?
  • What’s your plan for social media?
  • What are you including in your media packet?
  • Do you need a pre-activity safety plan?
    • Dress: Ok for heels? Flats? Hard hats and vests?
  • Maps and location 
    • How do attendees get to your event?
  • Roles and responsibilities
    • Leading up to the event
    • The day of the event

Execute your plan
Develop a task list for other communications staff. Set up a meeting with those team members and put appointments on their calendars.

Prior to the event

  • Make sure you have a power source at the site – such as a generator, power strip, etc.
  • Decide photo op
  • Update your project’s web profile:
    • Get rid of outdated info on the project page.
    • Publicize your event with a blog, social media or email update
  • Draft a press release
    • Get quotes from other speakers to put into release
  • Draft a media advisory
  • Assemble media packets (news release, fact sheet, etc.)
  • Draft and distribute talking points to region communicators and the social media team
  • Draft intranet news items – recognize the project office

On-site roles during the event

  • Cargo van driver, if needed to deliver supplies, chairs, etc.
  • On-site contact for media and lost guests
  • Photos and video
  • Facebook Live or live Tweeting
  • Media handler – should also have media packets
  • Transportation Secretary and elected official handler
  • Sound system and mult-box setup (a metal box with multiple outlets of a single audio source – allows media to plug-in to record the microphone feed)
  • Setup and teardown of tents and visuals
  • Guest check-in 
    • Make sure this person has talking points, run of show and can answer questions for speakers.

Office roles during the event

  • Send media advisory and make calls to stations
  • Post / send press release
  • Social media / media monitoring

Post event

  • Debrief with your team
    • What went well?
    • What can you improve?
    • Do you need to follow up with media?
    • What are reporters and people on social media saying?
  • Web work
    • Links to photos and press release from your project webpage, when you are done with video, post the video link
    • Story for the intranet news (a shout out to a particular project office or team?)
  • Social media
    • Use social media to keep your story alive or enhance coverage
      • Proof of performance blog
      • Facebook live
      • Reddit
      • Twitter
      • Provide story for email alert lists
    • Upload Flickr photos and tell a good story for each of them
    • Upload video
    • Proactively answer social media questions about the project on Reddit, Facebook and Twitter

 

Inclusion at WSDOT

WSDOT is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace that represents the communities it serves. We are focusing our efforts to ensure there are fair and equal opportunities to participate in WSDOT employment, contracts and decision making, and that every voice is heard.

 

Resources and guidance for creating accessible and more inclusive documents

Americans with Disabilities Act

Creating accessible documents

Environmental Justice/Limited English proficiency

 

Translation Services

If demographic data indicates that 5 percent of the population or 1,000 persons, whichever is less, living within 1/2 mile of your project "speak English less than well," you will need to provide equal access to project information in their language. This may be accomplished by:

  • Posting a notice on your project web page in the appropriate language(s).
  • Printing and distributing translated project brochures, meeting invitations, and newsletters in the appropriate languages(s). You do not need to translate all of the documents for your project if you have provided a way to people to request that information.
  • Providing translator or interpreter services upon request.

Department of Enterprise Services master contracts for translation, interpretive services

The contracts listed below are state mandatory-use contracts. When contracts are negotiated, the state is in principle guaranteeing the supplier a certain amount of business in exchange for the terms set forth in the contract. All aspects of the contract are taken into consideration: price, delivery, service. We are liable for breach of contract when we purchase items from another supplier, unless there are special circumstances.

Master contracts must be used unless you can demonstrate they do not meet a specific need. In that situation, you must note in your purchasing file why the contract did not meet your need and then proceed to obtain a vendor that does meet your needs.


Search for Department of Enterprise Services master contracts

Use the contract search tool to find a contractor or learn about special purchasing programs.

Once you identify a contractor vendor on the contract you wish to use, contact the vendor citing the contract number, contract name and customer number. For WSDOT, our customer number is the same as our agency number: 405.

Tactic Graphics, Braille: Central Washington University - Central Access

 

Legal stuff - copyright materials, use of WSDOT logo, photos

Copyrights

What is a copyright?

Under copyright laws, the author of an original work has rights and protections that give exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the copyrighted work
  • Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted material
  • Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental, lease or lending
  • Display the copyrighted work publicly by literary or audiovisual means
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

Using materials from the Internet

Do not assume that everything posted to the Internet is public domain; postings of many kinds are protected the same as published printed works. Copyright protections for Internet postings are somewhat murky, however, there are guidelines you should follow when creating a webpage to avoid violations:

  • Do not put the content of another person’s or organization’s website on your webpage
  • Do not copy and paste information from various Internet sources to create “your own” document
  • You can quote or paraphrase limited content, as long as you give credit to the original source and the location of the source
  • Do not copy and paste logos, icons, photos and other graphics from other websites to your webpage, unless it is advertised as “freeware” or you have been granted permission from the organization to use the material

 

Use of WSDOT photos by others

WSDOT gets many requests to use our photos; the criteria for using our photos is the same as the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

  • Photo credit must be given to the Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Photos cannot be used for commercial gain (for example, publishing a book for profit)
  • Photos cannot be used to imply WSDOT is endorsing a product or service
  • Photos cannot be altered

 

Use of WSDOT logo by others

Requests for use of the WSDOT logo, outside of usual WSDOT internal and external documents and communication products, are evaluated by the Headquarters Communications Office on a case by case basis to ensure it is an official business use and in line with WSDOT’s mission.

What rules govern the use of the WSDOT logo?

  • RCW 42.52.070 – Special Privileges – No state employee can use their position to secure a special privilege for themselves, or another person. That is, if you are willing to let one entity use the logo, you need to be willing to let other entities use the logo in the same/similar circumstances.
  • RCW 42.52.160 – Use of Persons, Money, or Property for Private Gain – No state employee can use any person, money, or property under their official control or direction for the private benefit or gain of another. That is, the logo cannot be used to create a profit or benefit for another group.
  • RCW 42.52.180 – Use of Public Resources for Political Campaigns – No state employee may use or authorize the use of facilities of an agency for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office or for the promotion of or opposition to a ballot proposition. That is, the logo should not be used to promote or oppose political campaigns.
  • RCW 42.52.900 – Legislative Declaration – Advises against any actions which may have the perception of a conflict of interest or improper use. Even if there is no actual conflict of interest or personal gain, there may be the perception of a conflict, personal gain or private advantage from the viewpoint of the public. As a public agency, WSDOT is held to the highest standards of ethical behavior.

 

Media

Media serve as a trusted third party source of information for many people; one reporter can influence thousands of readers or listeners. At the same time, news media face its own challenges, including fewer resources and more competition. Story coverage often goes to those who know how best to work with reporters and editors. WSDOT’s communications team can help agency leaders and subject matter experts acquire the skills, tools and confidence to deliver information in compelling, effective ways when working with the media.

 

Role of media

Members of the media want and need information. Whether you cooperate or not, they will most likely produce a story. Being accessible and sensitive to a reporter’s need for information and perspective will help generate credibility and create a good working relationship.

Reporters frequently want one of four things:

  • Fact check – Verify information or get additional data and perspectives
  • Round up – Outreach to WSDOT and other sources to gather comments on certain topics or issues
  • Background – Information on how a certain subject and/or situation came about
  • Quick quote – reporter wants an expert perspective, generally for a breaking or timely story

Important note: There is no such thing as “off the record.” Anything you say can be broadcast live or put on a website live and unedited.

 

Who should talk to a reporter?

WSDOT’s spokesperson for each media interview varies depending upon the situation and who has the needed expertise and abilities. Professional communicators are not the only media spokespersons, nor should they be. In general, it’s more interesting and effective for reporters to talk to the WSDOT staff person who is an expert on the topic.

To determine who should appropriately respond to a media question or pitch a story to the media, we consider who has the following:

  • The expertise required to respond to reporters’ questions knowledgeably and credibly
  • The ability to use appropriate strategic messages and provide clear, concise information
  • The confidence and poise necessary to speak with the media
  • The right time and right location to take advantage of media opportunities

If a reporter contacts you and you’re not sure if you’re the correct person to respond, please immediately contact a communications staff member. Sometimes when we’re addressing a highly controversial or sensitive issue, WSDOT managers decide that only a specific person or people are authorized to speak to an issue. When this occurs, all calls should go to the designated spokesperson.

 

Media training

In-house media training is available through WSDOT’s communications team. Agency managers and subject matter experts who would like to improve their skills and confidence in working with the media should contact the Headquarters Communication Office, 360-705-7075 to discuss their training needs and schedule a workshop.

No Surprises workshop (Risk contingency planning)
This workshop is intended to help project teams develop emergency/high-profile incident communication protocols. They help teams elevate and share information quickly about incidents that generate media attention. Currently offered to Northwest Region staff only. Contact the Northwest Region Communication Manager, 206-440-4698 for more information.

 

Reporting a media contact

Media contact reports are required anytime you speak to a reporter. These daily reports help protect our credibility. Sometimes a reporter or multiple reporters contact different people from the same agency to get information. We undermine our credibility if we don't coordinate and provide information that's consistent, accurate and on-message. Media contact reports are an important step in this coordination.

What to include in a media contact

  • Reporter's name and media outlet
  • Your name and that of the individual (if different from you) that spoke with the reporter
  • Brief description of the topic covered including highlights of the reporter's questions and information you provided in response
  • Who, if anyone, you referred the reporter to
  • When the story is expected to run or air
  • Any follow-up information or contacts required

Where to report a media contact

 

Creating News from WSDOT

What is news?
If you have a story to tell, you need to be able to demonstrate what makes your news important, exciting or relevant to your audience today. That’s called your news “hook.” Your news hook draws in your readers, gets their attention and compels them to continue reading the rest of your story.

 

Ways to create a news hook

  • Highlight something new, unique or emotionally appealing: For example, WSDOT’s use of goats to maintain highway right of way capitalized on the “cute factor” and helped promote our agency’s sustainable transportation and environmental stewardship.
  • Localize a national story: A bridge collapse (or other significant event) in another state often provides an opportunity to talk about what WSDOT does to inspect, repair and preserve our structures. Reporters will appreciate a local angle to a story they will need to cover anyway.
  • Nationalize a local story: WSDOT is building a number of large, complex projects; the Grand Opening celebration of the SR 520 floating bridge, which included a Guinness Book of World Records presentation, earned national attention.
  • Reinvent a traditional story: Think about holiday stories – reporters get tired of doing the traditional stories and would love to bring a new angle – use this as a “behind the scenes” look at employees who work during the holidays so that others can enjoy them.
  • Show and tell with social media: Draw attention to successes of something unique about your project or program. For example, post time-lapse video and a blog about WSDOT contractor crews installing seven, 80-ton concrete girders.
  • Use humor or a new twist to a headline: Traffic incidents and highway construction are routine news, but suggesting we can help fish 'swipe right' and find love, can bring added attention and interest to a culvert replacement project.

 

How do I get my news out?

Work with your program, regional or headquarters communication staff and involve them as soon as possible. It takes time to develop effective communication strategies and craft an action plan to meet your communication goals.

The more advance time you build into your schedule for communication planning, the more likely you’ll get good results and succeed at meeting your communication goals.

As a first step - answer these questions and be ready to discuss with your communications staff:

  • What’s happening?
  • When is it happening? 
  • Where is it happening?
  • Why is it important – what will happen if we do, or don’t do, this thing?
  • How will it affect your audience? Why should they care?
  • Who is involved?
  • What do we want our audience to do?
  • How will you know if you’ve met your communication goal? What does success look like?

 

Announcements for public meetings and events

News releases announcing a public meeting, open house or other WSDOT hosted public event must include both ADA information and the Title VI statement. The ADA notice provides information on how individuals with disabilities may request accommodation. Title VI states that WSDOT will not discriminate and how individuals may file a complaint if they believe their Title VI protections have been violated.

If you are aware a person with disabilities will be attending a public meeting or event, review WSDOT’s Disability Etiquette and Respectful Language Guide (pdf 77 kb).

 

Social Media

WSDOT has the most robust social media presence among DOTs in the nation. Using our multiple social media platforms allows us to provide consistent, reliable information about projects, safety and the state of the agency to the hundreds of thousands of people who follow our accounts. Responsive and creative communications on our social sites also helps the public feel more connected to the agency.

  • Executive Order E 1089.00 - Agency expectations for use

Facebook

 

Employee guide to social media best practices and policies (pdf 366 kb)

 

Tips for writing blog stories, using visuals and getting posted

Blogs are a way for us to tell a story in a more robust and deeper way than our other social media channels allow. It allows for creative and longer-form story telling in which we can delve deeper into an emerging issue or introduce the public to an aspect of the agency they may not be familiar with. It also gives us an anchor point with which to disperse important information on our other social channels that may not allow the space to fully explain an issue.

Writing tips

  • Be creative: These are not press releases. Tell a story, have a conversation with your reader. Describe. Paint a picture. Be engaging and give the reader a reason to dive in and learn more.
  • Use your voice: We all have our own writing voice, and none of them sound like a dry newscast. Use your unique way of writing to capture the reader’s attention.
  • But write well: Be creative, but do so within good writing. Don’t use slang. Write clearly, in complete sentences, using AP Style, in a way that’s easy to read.
  • Never WSDOT: With very, very few exceptions, “WSDOT” shouldn’t be in our blogs. Use “we,” “us,” “our,” etc.
  • Think statewide: Our blog is seen statewide, unlike our specific Twitter accounts. Think of how you can make your story relevant to a statewide audience whenever possible.
  • Limit quotes: There’s usually no place in a blog for quotes. If you’ve used sources for your story, paraphrase whenever possible. Write what the quote said and add depth to it rather than quoting directly.
  • Avoid jargon: Much of what we write about is technical, or a different world from the average reader. It’s your job to explain, make it simple, reach the average reader so they aren’t left wondering, “What?”
  • Run it by subject experts: Is your blog piece technical? Does it involve a subject you aren’t sure about? It’s always a good idea to run your completed story by a subject expert so they can check your facts and make sure everything is correct before it goes to final editing.
  • Link carefully: Links can be helpful but we want to be careful about sending people to another spot for information so use them judiciously. Is there something specific to the link that you can include in your story instead?

Using visuals

  • Images rule: A picture is worth 1,000 words, right? So, let’s use them! Find a few good images that work well with your story. No need to flood the blog with pictures, but two to four solid images go a long way in helping to tell the story.
  • But make them compelling: There are places for maps/graphs/charts, etc. Some blogs absolutely need them. But they aren’t very interesting. Use real pictures as well whenever possible and limit use of maps, etc. unless it’s a must.
  • Videos can help: If you’ve got a short clip or two that can flesh out the story, it can go a long way toward making your story sing. This would be a great place to post a quick interview (rather than using quotes) or showing something that may be tough to describe.
  • But be sure videos meet the video standards: Work with Web Help to be sure any videos used are matching our standards, including using WSDOT intro/outro and logos.
  • Get your images vetted: Be sure to send any images you want to use through the safety department first to be sure there are no concerns.
  • Send art separately: When submitting your blog to the editor, be sure to send your pictures/videos as separate attachments.
  • Help the editor out: Please include caption information for pictures and headline suggestions if possible.

Getting your blog posted

  • No surprises: As soon as you have a blog idea, loop in the social media lead to help develop the idea and get it on the content calendar. 
  • Have a plan: How will people find out about your blog? Will you Tweet it? Post it to Facebook? Is it worth posting to Reddit? What makes sense, when, and why?
  • Be responsive: We don’t typically get a lot of comments on blogs, but when we do it’s important to be responsive and get back to the person as quickly as possible.

 

Tips for posting Flickr photos

The WSDOT Flickr site gives us an easy way to share our images with the public and the media. Flickr lets you arrange photos and short videos into visual essays that illustrate our stories.

Do post

  • Your very best photos, remember our Flickr images have been seen more than 16 million times and used by media around the world.
  • Photos of WSDOT people at work. Flickr works best when you share more authentic “real life” photos. Do not use an employee’s name in the photo caption without their permission, or just have the employee sign a photo model release.
  • Photos taken from different perspectives to keep it interesting.
  • Only photos that WSDOT has a copyright or license to publish.
  • High quality JPEG images that are 1200 x 800 pixels or larger.
  • Real time images. The speed of getting photos online matters. The closer to your event you can get your photos up, the more people (and media) will use them and share them.

Don't post

  • Multiple shots of the same thing.
  • Photos with the same description on each of them.  Each photo must be properly and uniquely described.
  • Blurry photos or images that are too dark or too light. 
  • Too many maps, graphs or charts. 
  • Photos smaller than 500 x 333 pixels, they're just too small to show up well.
  • Photos that WSDOT does not have a copyright or license to publish.
  • Photos of social events, unless they show WSDOT people helping our communities. (Please create a separate, free Flickr site to share those employee picnic photos.) 

WSDOT applies a Creative Commons license to the images we post on Flickr. This license allows anyone to copy and share our images with some restrictions.

Step 1: Upload Your Photos

WSDOT Communications staff can upload photos from any computer or server connected to the Internet. Uploading photos to Flickr takes a login and password. Please contact WSDOT Webhelp for access to the WSDOT Flickr site.

Once you have access, uploading photos to Flickr is quick and easy. 

  • If you need to crop your image or make it brighter, use editing tools like Photoshop before you publish.
  • From Flickr "home" page, just click the link that says "Upload photos and videos."
  • Then click the link that says "Choose photos and videos" and select the photos you want to upload.  
  • You can upload high quality JPEG images directly from your computer.

Step 2: Add a Description

When your photos have been uploaded to Flickr, you will be prompted to "Add a description?" Click that link, this is your chance to describe your photos and make them easy for people to find and identify.

  • At the top of the page you'll see a box where you can enter tags. Tags are words that describe our photos. They let people search for photos by keyword or subject. Words like highway, Pullman, ferry, avalanche or bridge will help people find our photos. If your tag has more than one word, like "Mount Rainier" or "US 2" put quotes around it. Please include your initials or the name of the photographer as tags so we know where to refer questions.  Please post the incident number as a tag for all images taken during any emergency activation.
  • There's a drop-down menu list to "choose an album." We've typically created albums (previously called "sets") for specific activities, like "Paint Striping" or "I-90 Easton Overpass." You can add photos to an existing album create a new album. Albums will have short titles and longer descriptions. If your images illustrate a WSDOT project, be sure to include a hyperlink back to the project page in your album description.
  • Just below each uploaded photo is a title box. This one is really important! When you upload a new photo, the title will be the filename of the photo until you change it. On Flickr the title is also the "alt" tag that describes the image to viewers with visual impairments. Titles like "Img_6743" or "Unit A" are not helpful; make your titles brief but also meaningful!
  • There's a larger box below the photo for a description. Here's your chance to write a real description of the activity in your photo. Use your Web writing skills and follow the AP style guide, we've seen media outlets turn our Flickr descriptions into articles. Beware of words like today or tomorrow in your description, Flickr photos may live forever.

Step 3: Save Your Work

When you're done describing your photos, remember to use the "save" button at the bottom of the page and drop a note to Web Help to let us know that you've added new photos.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

Once your photos are uploaded, you can still edit the title, add more tags and rearrange the images within an album. 

  • Date Information: When you upload a digital image to Flickr, you're also sharing some data about the image. You can't see it, but the camera collects the date and time an image was taken and Flickr publishes this this data. If you scan photos and post them to Flickr, this data will often be incorrect but you can manually correct the date taken info from the "actions" pull down menu above your image.
  • Mapping Images: The map on the photo page shows people exactly where the photo was taken. Whenever you know the location of the image, please add it to the map.
  • Flickr Groups: Join and contribute to Flickr groups. No matter what you are taking pictures of (from "Concrete Workers" to "Phillip Spaulding's Ferries"), you'll find people sharing photos of it in a Flickr group. Remember, what you post into a group must be relevant and on topic. Be sure to check out the group discussion and follow the rules.
  • Organizing Images: Once you have several Flickr albums for your program or activity, you can organize them into collections. A collection homepage gives you a stable, convenient URL to share. This allows you to publicize a consistent URL, even while you are adding new images and albums.  In Flickr, images go into albums and albums go into collections.

 

Instagram best practices

Instagram is a mobile photo-sharing app, which, unlike other social networking sites, is completely photo/video centric, allowing us the freedom to use pictures and video to tell our story.

  • Be mobile: The only way to use Instagram is via mobile device, so you’ll need to download the app to your mobile.
  • Don’t flood your feed: Posting 1 or 2 times a day is sufficient. Otherwise, it just becomes noise.
  • But be consistent: Give people a reason to follow you. They want to know you’ll have consistent content.
  • Flickr vs. Instagram: They are similar. If you have several pictures you want to post to tell a story, Flickr is your best bet. If you have one great picture that tells a story, Instagram might be the better choice.
  • Let the picture do the talking: While we can and should add some text context to the picture, the picture should tell much of the story. If nothing else, it should be visually captivating.
  • Hashtags: Hashtags can help tell the story of the picture and capture more eyes, but be sure the hashtag you’re using makes sense and is relevant to your content. Do a search for the hashtag and see what it’s already being used for. And don’t overdo hashtag use.
  • Picture quality: Keep in mind that people are viewing your Instagram on mobile mostly, so be sure the quality of the picture is clear and easy to view. There are many filter choices so check to see that the photo is as clear as possible.
  • Be responsive: Responsiveness has been the key to our social media success. Monitor any comments on your posts and respond as quickly as possible. Let people know they are interacting with real people.
  • Tag, you’re it: Similar to Twitter, you have to use the @ symbol in order for the person you’re engaging with to get notice that you’ve responded to them.
  • Linking: You can’t link on Instagram except in the description of who you are (not on any photos). So that would be the place to direct people to a blog or website.
  • Collages: Sometimes a collage can work well to tell a story but be aware that the pictures will be smaller so must be clear and work together well to tell the story.

 

Tips for using Facebook, Periscope live video

Before going live on Facebook, ask yourselves these questions in formulating your plan

  • What do you plan to talk about?
  • Why does Facebook Live make sense for this? Would a different platform work better?
  • Who will be involved (on camera, holding the camera, etc.).
  • Where will you do it? Does it have good reception? Have you tested it?
  • What time will you air? Be as specific as possible so you can alert the public to tune in.
  • Will you be using a microphone and/or tripod?
  • Are there visuals you’ll be using?
  • What are your pans for post-Facebook Live (monitoring comments/answering questions, etc.)?

Be prepared

  • Unless this is an absolute emergency, there’s no need to wing it. Have your plan ready.
  • Be sure you have a strong connection. Check it well in advance, if possible, so you aren’t surprised. Have a backup phone available, if possible, as some services can get a signal where others can’t.

Technical issues to consider

  • Hold the phone vertically. If you hold it sideways (in landscape) the video will be sideways.
  • Speak louder than you think you need to speak, even if you’re using a mic.
  • Be sure your phone ringer and any other cellphone ringers nearby are turned off.
  • Be aware of ambient noise (traffic, air conditioning, phones ringing, people talking, etc.). Is there a better spot you can locate to? It’s fun doing Facebook Live outside, but be aware of surroundings.
  • How is the lighting? Are you in shadow? Is your graphic in shadow? Is it too bright?
  • If you’re going to be fairly stationary, consider using a tripod.

Practice first

  • Write a compelling description before going live. What are people going to hear about?
  • You can practice without going live by setting the “Who Should See This” privacy setting to “Only Me.” Film it, check the video and sound quality, etc. If nothing else, rehearse what you plan to say beforehand.
  • Have someone familiar with the story you’re trying to tell film you. They can help guide the broadcast and are better equipped to know what to film and when.
  • Have someone watching the broadcast who is able to communicate with you or the filmer if the sound or video quality is off.

And, ACTION!

  • Personality. Be yourself. Be engaging. Smile. This isn’t 60 Minutes.
  • Introduce yourself, where you’re from and what you’re talking about. Encourage comments/feedback and encourage people to share the video when you’re done.
  • Acknowledge people by name who are asking questions/commenting. It helps build a connection and encourages more people to engage.
  • Use a closing line so people know when the broadcast is ending. Thank them for tuning in.
  • Facebook has found that the most popular FB Lives last about 10 minutes, which seems long in a day when we know attention spans can be short. Don’t be afraid to tell your story thoroughly. Speak clearly, don’t rush through it.
  • Consider doing a short synopsis of what was talked about in the comments section. Remember that some Facebook users are deaf or hearing impaired and this will help them know the key points. It will also help people who don’t have the time/interest to watch the entire video.
  • Keep in mind that the media can and will use sound clips from your Facebook Lives. While keeping it engaging, also be sure that you come across as professional.
  • Despite all your planning and testing, things can go wrong. Facebook can be a strange beast with a mind of its own sometimes. Don’t get discouraged, learn from mistakes and keep trying.
  • Stay engaged on the Facebook post as questions/comments continue to roll in after the broadcast is over.

 

Twitter best practices

Twitter continues to be our best way of getting information out quickly to a wide audience. We have the two most-followed accounts about DOTs in the country and are seeing strong growth with other accounts. With more than 500,000 followers across all our accounts, we are a go-to source of information not just locally but across the country.

  • Post consistently: We need consistent content to give people a reason to follow us. Some accounts will post more than others, but every account should be active daily.
  • Post Timely: Post content to Twitter before releasing it anywhere else. If a news agency tweets it first, we lose the opportunity to tell our story
  • But be careful! It is possible to tweet too much! On particularly bad traffic days, for example, be careful not to flood people’s feed with information. Figure out what’s important for them to know and how to update them without overdoing it. You can also tweet too much in an hour, which locks you out of Twitter for a few hours.
  • Understand timing: When are most people online? Early in the morning before work. At lunch. In the evening after work. Many of our followers use mobile devices to access social media so we can reach people on transit during the AM and PM commutes.
  • Pay attention to what’s happening: There are times when it’s better to be quiet and not tweet anything at all, out of respect for current events. Pause a bit to see if there’s anything happening before sending information out, especially jokes.
  • Images rule: If you can include pictures or videos with your tweets, it will have a greater reach and get more of a response. Images draw more eyes than plain text.
  • Know your images: Memes and GIFs are great to use to draw eyes. But know the story or background of what you’re using. Do they make sense in your context? Is there anything controversial about them that may bite you? Research them if you don’t know.
  • Be personable: Twitter feeds should have a voice. Let people know it’s a real person behind the screen. Be yourself and people will connect because it’s authentic.
  • Stay in your comfort zone: Don’t tweet about things you don’t know about, because you’ll make mistakes. If you don’t know sports, don’t force it, find something that you’re comfortable with.
  • Stay in your lane: Each Twitter account has its own purpose. Work together, but don’t stray outside your account’s purpose. Otherwise that makes those other accounts pointless.
  • Be responsive: The key to good social media is being social. We want people to continue to come back to us for information and that means being responsive to their comments/questions, as quickly as possible. If you can’t find an answer quickly, let them know you’re looking into it and will get back to them ASAP.
  • Remember your audience: So many people use social from a mobile device. Keep that in mind when crafting your content. Keep it short but include the most important info. If you’re linking to a blog or a webpage, don’t say “Click this blog”, “Check out this webpage,” etc. Don’t force them to click out of the context of Twitter to read the message you want them to get. 
  • Hashtags: Hashtags are an important way to engage in a conversation, but use them intelligently. They don’t need to be in every post and shouldn’t just be used to jump into a conversation. If you must use one, pick a hashtag that makes sense that will help push the content out. Using hashtags that are trending (news jacking) can sometimes gain you a larger audience, but is it your target audience, newsjack wisely. Doing this too often can be seen as desperate.
  • Tag smart: Tagging other accounts can help expand your reach and connect with an important demographic. Is there a sports team, venue, artist, agency, that you can use to leverage your content in a way that makes sense?
  • Add value: We’re known for our humor and creativity but don’t be funny just to be funny. How can you be funny or creative within the context of our goals?
  • Re-Tweeting: Re-Tweeting is a great way to support other accounts while also expanding your potential follow numbers. But be smart. Re-Tweet important info that your followers may find useful.
  • Quote Re-Tweets: Using the quote Re-Tweet option is a good way to add your spin to a tweet or to add context to a Tweet that makes it relevant to your audience.
  • Each Tweet is its own Tweet: Remember that each tweet exists on its own. Don’t assume that because you tweeted about something earlier and are following up on it, that people saw the first tweet. Always provide needed context.
  • Shorten links: It’s always a good idea to use Bit.ly to shorten links to blogs or webpages. It saves a large amount of space that you can use to provide context to the link.
  • Lists are great! You can make lists on Twitter that allow you to easily follow groupings of other accounts. For example, you can make a WSDOT list to follow other agency accounts to easily stay updated on what they’re talking about.
  • Polling: Polls on Twitter can be an easy way to engage people and get feedback, but have a plan on what to do with the results of the poll. What’s the point?
  • Follow people back: Are there people who regularly provide value to your account? Let you know about crashes? Ask good questions? Regularly engage? Consider following them back. It’s a nice thing to do and encourages them to keep reaching out to you.

 

Templates

Below are templates frequently used in WSDOT communications:

Certificate of Appreciation / Completion

Communication Plan (docx 28 kb)

Fact Sheet (docx 18 kb)

Power Point - Contact WSDOT Graphics to receive a copy

Releases

Speaking engagement request (docx 28 kb) - Secretary/Deputy Secretary

Talking Points (docx 18 kb)

 

Visual Communications

Maps

Photography
WSDOT uses photographs in a variety of ways to communicate a story to its audiences

Visual Engineering Resource Group (VERG)

Video

 

Web

WSDOT's website averages 165,000 user sessions per day. More than half of those user sessions are from a mobile phone or tablet. To better serve the needs of our customers in the way they use our information, we've developed standards and guidelines for website consistency.

Our Web toolkit is a collection of our guidelines and assistance for both external and internal websites.

Our Web content strategy ensures everything WSDOT produces for a web audience has a consistent look and feel. If you create or add content to our external website, please review this strategy.


Internal web communications

Want your story on the intranet site? 

Here are the policies we will be following for every article posted to the Intranet news.

  • Know your audience: The “In the News” section of our intranet site is meant to provide information important to employees. Your audience is those who want to keep up to date on what’s happening that affects WSDOT.
  • Draw readers in: Keep headlines short and creative; do not just state what the article is about. Draw them in with the most interesting part of the story. Additional information can be put in the short summary that appears next to the image.
  • Every story must have an image: The story will not be published without an image or graphic.
  • Editing: All stories will be edited for AP style, grammar and proper web writing voice. Any questions or clarifications on these changes can be sent to the intranet editor.
  • Keep it timely: Any upcoming events or changes relating to the article subject will be high up in the article. Information that explains something employees should already understand will be cut and/or moved to the end of a story.
  • Word limit: Submitted stories must be fewer than 250 words before being published. This does not count the summary or headline.
  • Limit the use of quotes: Unless they add to the overall story.
  • Provide links: Providing sources for additional information is great for those who want to learn more and keeps the story itself easy to read for those who just want a summary.
  • Awards/Honors: Due to the large number of awards or honors individuals and groups in WSDOT receive; we will start adding them to a list. On the first work day of each month, this list will be shared on the intranet site, with a short two-sentence description of the award (100 words or less) and a link to more information.
  • In Remembrance: These stories will no longer be posted to the front page, unless it is related to an event or topic that touches a broad audience.

Have an idea or story you’d like to share? Send an email with your ideas to intranet@wsdot.wa.gov

Using our CMS system

All of our intranet is still in the CMS system.

 

Writing Guidelines

 

Tone in written WSDOT communications

WSDOT uses a number of communication tools to share agency information. Each of these tools employs a different “tone,” ranging from formal to informal, from serious to conversational, to humorous. In every case, we strive to remain professional, respectful and empathetic to the reader.

  • Blog - Write a blog in a tone similar to what you would use in conversation with a neighbor. Personal perspective is encouraged to help engage your readers; share your own experience with the topic, if it helps to make your point.
  • Email - The tone in an email can be either formal or informal and conversational, depending on the situation and your relationship with the reader. Keep in mind that emails can be disclosed and made public. If you would not be comfortable seeing your email published, then revise your tone. Sensitive topics might be best discussed over the phone.
  • Letters - Letters are considered the agency’s official correspondence and generally have a more formal tone. Responses should be written in a clear, concise manner, avoiding agency jargon and using plain talk language. Most agency correspondence is subject to public disclosure.
  • News releases - News releases should be informative and factual and use a more formal tone. Avoid statements such as, “drivers will be pleased…” because we really can’t know what their reaction will be; instead, focus on what action we’re taking, “repairs will reduce ruts and smooth the driving surface…” Personal perspectives and opinions in news releases are only acceptable when used as part of a quote and attributed to an individual.
  • Twitter - Information sent out through Twitter is informal and limited to 140 characters, so abbreviations and hashtag# links are used often to direct readers to additional detail. Tweets can get news out quickly to WSDOT followers; to increase success, be relevant, be informative and be personable. When used appropriately, a witty or humorous tweet is often the most effective way to get your message shared and reach a broad audience.