The (new) Social Network : trucking’s unexpected flirtation with social media
January 1, 2011
TORONTO, Ont. -"Trucking driving: a great job for people who hate people." While you probably won't see this slogan included on the cover of a trucking company's recruitment brochure any time soon, this was the argument made in a...
TORONTO, Ont. –“Trucking driving: a great job for people who hate people.” While you probably won’t see this slogan included on the cover of a trucking company’s recruitment brochure any time soon, this was the argument made in a recent article on a US-based online careers site, which provided a collection of the “perfect careers for misanthropes, introverts, and curmudgeons.” Appearing on the list, nestled comfortably between Software Analyst and Zookeeper, was none other than Trucker. “Spend your days -and even your nights -alone in your truck,” the article quips.
While a few of the occupations mentioned, and indeed the article itself, were obviously intended for laughs, (ie. Undertaker, because “dead people don’t give boring PowerPoint presentations or talk loudly on their cell phones all day”), truckers seemed oddly out of place.
For a group that –allegedly -hates people, truckers can be a remarkably social bunch. Despite their longstanding fondness for the CB, truckers of late have been immersing themselves in what is, perhaps, a more unlikely social network: social media.
For the novice, the term “social media” refers to the use of Web-based technologies for social interaction. Some of the more familiar (and popular) examples include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube -though the list continues to grow and diversify by the day.
On the surface, the use of social media may seem like an activity more suited for techno-geeks and 14-yearolds, and truckers, for their part, may not seem likely followers of technological trends. But a quick search on Twitter provides ample evidence to the contrary. Trucking companies, manufacturers and truckers alike have all found their niche on the social networking site, which encourages its users to answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less.
One such trucker is Allen Smith, a Dunnellon, Fla.-based driver and an avid proponent of Twitter and other social media sites.
“Social media is a tremendous tool for people who want to either maintain contact with friends and family, build friendships, network, create contacts or get a message or announcement out to a mass group about issues and topics which you’re passionate about,” Smith told Truck West. “One of the most important aspects of social media to me is the fact that it brings likeminded people together, allowing them to share their thoughts and ideas, while informing each other of things that are going on that they may not have been aware of otherwise. It also creates transparency and accountability in a public atmosphere. When you want your voice to be heard, there is no better way than using social media to get the word out virally, to thousands, possibly millions.”
Smith’s current exposure via social media is considerable, with two Twitter accounts (@AskTheTrucker and @TruckerApp), four Facebook accounts (including www.facebook.com/askthetrucker, Truth About Trucking fan page, Truckers with iPhones, and the AskTheTrucker Blog), a YouTube page ( www.you-tube.com/truthabouttrucking), a MySpace page, and even a LinkedIn account to his credit.
Such a far-reaching scope has afforded Smith thousands of fans and followers, and has provided opportunities for him to give a voice to the industry. One such example saw Smith contacted by TV news program Dan Rather Reports to provide details on commercial driver’s licence training issues in the US. The show’s producers found Smith via his AskTheTrucker blog, and one phone call eventually led to a four-part series on the trucking industry.
Smith was also contacted via Facebook by a representative from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration who requested Smith take part in a phone meeting with government officials concerning the CSA 2010 safety rating system.
“The communication lasted over a period of months, where we were able to express the needs and concerns for the drivers of this country,” Smith said. “I believe these conversations had a major impact in addressing many of the areas of CSA 2010 which would have unfairly and negatively affected drivers (and) FMCSA listened. It is these types of happenings, which many times go unnoticed, that mean the most: knowing you’ve made a difference and have possibly made life better for others. Again, exposure is a vital element and it’s led to so many people contacting me, both in the business world and on a personal level. It has allowed us to get our messages out and be a voice for so many within trucking. This is the most important part for me, representing those who are not heard and giving them a voice and value in the world.”
Another trucker giving a voice to the voiceless in the industry is Desiree Wood, known in the Twittersphere as @TruckerDesiree. Wood came to Twitter to raise awareness of violence against women entering the trucking industry and also to address poor driver training. Her efforts, much like Smith’s, have earned Wood a loyal following (at point of interview she had more than 6,600 followers on Twitter), and, also like Smith, she sees the value of using social media as a tool to further her cause.
“I use Twitter as a tool; not to socialize, but being interactive is very important to develop relationships and reputation,” she says. “It’s more effective if you have a purpose than just setting up an account to use it as a CB like some do, but if you have something you are promoting and you can show that and interact also, this is effective. I discuss events I suppose that most people would not expect from the stereotypical trucker. I talk about things that concern me as a human living on this planet trying to get along with one another without labelling it with political affiliations or religious affiliations, because I think those things are often misused to conceal bad behaviour.”
Wood has also been featured on Dan Rather Reports and has been the subject of documentaries and articles related to social media. But despite her own success, Wood says the trucking industry itself, specifically recruiters, carriers, and even politicians, have not found a way to use social media effectively -or honestly -just yet.
“I think Facebook and Twitter are very good social media platforms for trucking, but the problem with trucking is that they are not used to being questioned, so they go silent. That is ‘unsocial media’ and this is why it has not been applied effectively in the trucking industry yet,” Wood told Truck West.
“Recruiters and carriers are not having an easy time because they are not changing their strategy and have not embraced transparency. Putting out misleading information and not responding to criticism…shows they do not care, they do not value the intelligence of others and they are rigid to change. This is hurdle that the trucking industry needs to decide how they will proceed.”
Trucking industry OEMs, suppliers and service providers are also getting in on the social media game, like Brampton, Ont.-based Blower Tech Solutions, which has Amy Harrison frenetically working her thumbs behind the scenes of the company’s Twitter account (@Blower_Tech).
“I am seeing more and more transportation industry-involved companies making use of social media -via Twitter and Facebook primarily -and I am very impressed by it,” Harrison told Truck West. “I guess the rule of thumb is, if your competition is doing it, you better be too. With social media, the costs are minimal so there really isn’t a huge excuse to not get involved.”
Harrison says that the variety and scope of social media sites can be a bit daunting for new users, and admits to personally using Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts, as well as having a blog. She encourages clients to think of social media and the Internet this way: “Your Web site is your home/head office, Facebook is your permanent trade show booth, and Twitter is your spokesperson who is literally everywhere in the company and can update you instantly,” she says. “Does it get a bit confusing? Yes, sometimes, but this is what works for me.”
As for the value it brings to her business, Harrison says social media’s role as the great equalizer has been beneficial for Blower Tech.
“Anyone can do it and you are all equals. Volvo, Hino, Cummins, they are all on equal footing with me (@ Blower_Tech), or anyone else. The value of getting involved is that you can use social media to build relationships with your client base and post-recession this has become key in determining who gets your valued dollars. It is instantaneous, which again adds to the value. In a lot of cases, the big companies don’t need to write a press release or time a press conference: they can put out a message on Twitter immediately and address issues directly.”
Some truckers have seen the entertainment potential of social media -and a least one driver has used it to great success. Canadian trucker Sean Sutherland, (aka @EskimoSean on Twitter), boasts one of the most popular trucking-related YouTube channels around, with more than 6.7 million views to date, offering a combination of comedy and information for his many fans.
The channel’s popularity soared once Sutherland’s homemade training videos went viral, and he has since used his status as a YouTube partner to promote his intentionally stereotypical -and funny -trucker alter-ego, Eskimo Sean, in a series of skits.
“I use the combination (of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook) to stay in touch with family and friends, both at home and on the road. My You-Tube (channel) has been a structure for not only that reason, but to inform the general public of the truth about trucking, (to) try to show them we are not the stereotype they all picture truckers to be, as well as answer questions entry-level drivers may have about how to drive, and what to expect once starting a career in trucking,” he says.
“Sites like Twitter are bringing back some of the brotherhood that has disappeared. I’m ‘following’ trucker friends all over the country, meeting up with them, and building friendships and a brotherhood with them I may not have had any other way. These sites are starting to give truckers a feeling of togetherness, and I’m finding we are starting to find a voice again. We can use these tools on the Web to further ourselves and the industry.”
Though his status as a YouTube partner has helped him earn money every time one of his videos is viewed, Sutherland says the feedback he’s received from fellow drivers has brought him the most value from using social media.
“What I hold close is the countless e-mails I receive from entry-level drivers. Knowing that I’ve helped them understand the industry, or how to drive better, and knowing that I’ve helped make them a professional driver, and not a steering wheel holder, is worth the time and effort put forth.”
That said, Sutherland warns users that while there is much good that can come from social media, reckless tweeting or blogging can often spell trouble -both personally and professionally.
“Be careful of what you say and do. Giving too much information on what you do, where you’re going, and anything else company-related can get you fired or worse. I’ve had my battles with companies over this issue and have seen their side. But companies don’t fully understand the good that can come of social media. Just remember, we all have bad days, and need to vent -just watch what you say.”
Another driver running the gamut of the social media scene is Al Goodhall (@Al_Goodhall), a long-haul trucker since 1998 and a recent addition to Truck West’s team of columnists. And how did the aptly named Goodhall come to Truck West’s attention? Through Twitter, of course.
“Before (writing for Truck West), my writing appeared regularly (and still does) in our company newsletter,” Goodhall said in an interview. “This is very cool for me as it has opened many discussions with my fellow drivers at my place of work about industry issues and attitudes. Social media helps me tap into what’s going on within the industry as well as my family and social circles when I am away for extended periods. It’s just nice to know what is going on outside of my cab. It’s a way of feeling connected that we have not had available to us in the past.”
But Goodhall admits that the use of social media is a supplementary source of information and has its limits.
“You can never replace social interaction that takes place in person; whether it be one-on-one or in a group situation. My preference is to have a conversation over coffee or a couple of beers. Face-to-face contact is, by far, the best way to communicate and share ideas. I don’t believe that social media will ever replace that.”
But the immediacy of social media, especially when one is on the road for days on end, coupled with the information to be shared and contacts to be made at the click of a button is an undeniably valuable tool, Goodhall says.
“(Social media) needs to be recognized by truck drivers as a very powerful tool for initiating change and ideas within our industry. You can communicate with everyone from family to politicians to industry lobby groups to enforcement personnel to fellow drivers and your own company executive. You can do all of that in real-time,” Goodhall said. “In this day and age, we can’t use the excuse that nobody listens to us. We now have the ability to provide feedback via the various social networks. I can’t think of anything that is more valuable than that.”
‘(Social media) needs to be recognized by truck drivers as a very powerful tool for initiating change and ideas within our industry.’