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Project of the Week: UK’s Driving Standards Agency

  • Does your local DMV have instructional videos on YouTube?
  • Do they use social media at all?
  • Are they committed to “lifelong learning” among drivers in your area?

If your answer was “no” to any or all of these questions, then you might want to tell them about the United Kingdom’s Driving Standards Agency (DSA), which is leveraging social media to reach more citizens with educational messages that reinforce safe behavior on the road.

1. Can you tell me a bit more about the UK’s DSA and its equivalent here in the US to give readers some context?

The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is one of the agencies within the UK Department for Transport. Our mission is ‘safe driving for life’. We’re a national organisation, delivering driving tests from over 140 theory test centres and 400 practical driving test centres. In 2008-09 we delivered 1,963,288 practical driving tests. As well as having responsibility for setting driving standards and conducting theory and practical driving tests, we’re also responsible for the regulation of driving instructors and trainers. Our closest equivalent in the US is the DMV – although in the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is responsible for maintaining an up to date register of drivers and vehicles.

2. So you have started using social media to successfully reach a broader number of the public. How had you educated the public about driving and traffic safety in the past? How many citizens did you successfully reach (to your knowledge)…and how did that change when you incorporated social media?

Before DSA started to use social media, we relied on the traditional channels – our own website, magazines, posters, leaflets, and going to events and talking to people. There were two drawbacks with that – it’s hard to quantify how many people we were reaching, and those methods were relatively expensive compared to social media.

Since we started using social media, we’ve known exactly how many people we’re reaching – whether that’s been our number of followers on Twitters or the number of our tweets that have been retweeted, or how many subscribers we have on YouTube and how many views our videos are getting.

Using social media has helped us to open up access to our road safety knowledge and information. One of the things that I’m proudest of is being able to put road safety videos on YouTube and then invite people to come and take the video and use it how they want to – whether that’s to put it on their own website, or share it with their friends on Facebook, or talk about it in an online community

In around a year we’ve attracted around 2,500 followers on Twitter. Since September 2009 we’ve had over one million video views on YouTube and over 1,000 people have subscribed to our channel. Since January 2010 over 17,000 people have signed up for personalised email alerts.

3. DSA is about to reach an important milestone – 75th anniversary of the British driving test. Why is this so momentous and what are you doing to celebrate it?

Driving was much more hazardous 75 years ago. 7,343 people were killed on Britain’s roads when only 2.4 million vehicles were in operation.

Over the years improvements to the driving test and other safety initiatives, such as improvements to vehicles, have resulted in a reduction in road deaths in Great Britain, which now has some of the best road safety records in the world. In 2008 there were 34 million cars on the road and 2,538 people were killed in road accidents. DSA is still working passionately towards further improvements in road safety.

We’re celebrating our achievements and contributions to road safety – but we’re also looking to the future. In April 2009 the Road Safety Minister announced that DSA would implement a phased programme of improvement to better equip newly qualified drivers to drive safely and responsibly in today’s challenging driving conditions. We’ll do this by:

  • strengthening the way that people learn to drive and are tested
  • modernising the driver training profession
  • introducing a more efficient and effective learning process
  • giving employers and insurers greater confidence in the driving abilities of newly-qualified drivers and those who have invested in further training
  • creating a culture of continuous and lifelong learning

4. Another milestone that is a sign of the times is the fact that you’ll soon hit your 1millionth view on your YouTube channel. How much time does it take to produce the videos that you’re posting on YouTube? What are the resources required (i.e. are you producing them in-house or contracting with a third party)? What tips do you have for others who would like to produce similar content?

We’ve got a wide range of videos on our channel. Some have been produced in-house, and some have been produced by our communication partner.

I think we’ve found that the initial idea is the most time consuming part. Getting that idea that will engage the viewer and make them want to share the content with their friends – that’s the challenge. We’ve done that in a number of ways – hard hitting videos that make you sit up and pay attention, having someone that you can related to, or providing more of a ‘how to’ style.

As an example of how well the ‘how to’ style can work on YouTube, two weeks ago we published a new video explaining a change that’s being made to the driving test in October 2010. We published it a little earlier than we were planning to because of some inaccurate media coverage of our plans. But that video’s been viewed over 18,000 times already. We also invited people who had questions about the change to post them as a comment on the video so that we could go back and answer them. We’ve got around 150 questions and answers on the video now. If we weren’t using YouTube, I don’t think we’d have been able to quickly correct those media inaccuracies quite as fast.

If anyone else is looking at how to use YouTube, my tips would be to know what your message is before you even pick up the camera! Keep it short and to the point – and remember to use the hotspot tools in YouTube to look at how well your video is keeping the audience’s attention, and don’t be afraid to re-edit if you need to. Finally… engage! YouTube is at its best when it’s being used as a two-way channel – not just broadcasting out. Don’t be afraid to invite comments – but do know in advance how you plan to handle them.

5. What’s the most viewed video…and why?

Our most viewed video is called ‘Are you ready?’. It’s a short guide about what to expect when you take your theory and practical driving test.

We know that most people are nervous when they come to take the test – some of that’s down to them not quite knowing what to expect. The video walks them through the process – from arriving at the test centre, to the moment they pass… and beyond.

It’s been great being able to invite people to comment on our videos – we’ve been able to get valuable feedback and answer their questions and hopefully ease any worries they have. We’ve recently had a comment thanking us for the video because it really eased the poster’s nerves.

6. It’s never “build it and they will come” alone. How did you drive the (web-based) traffic to your sites?

As we’ve been establishing our social media presence, we’ve still been relying on our traditional marketing channels to drive traffic to our sites. We’ve written features for our magazine for road safety professionals, issued press releases, and promoted the new channels on our existing corporate website.

But the most pleasing thing that we’ve done is embraced these new channels within DSA. When we’re sat in campaign planning meetings now, we talk about how we’ll use Twitter, YouTube and our email alerts to engage and communicate with our audiences – it’s just become ‘the way we do things around here’.

7. What other initiatives are on the agenda going forward? Are you doing anything with virtual worlds, for instance, or mobile technology?

2010 is a really exciting year for DSA. We’re going to be more innovative than ever. Already we’re looking at mobile apps to keep people up to date with our news sent out from the GovDelivery service, YouTube videos and Twitter feed.

Producing online digital magazines, further promoting our widgets, setting up Facebook communities of learner drivers and more active participation in online forums are just a few of the areas we’re looking at.

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