Using Twitter, state agencies in Georgia posted targeted emergency messages directly to digital billboards during Hurricane Matthew. This high-tech partnership demonstrates the growing link between social media and out of home (OOH) advertising. Karlene Barron, communications director for Georgia's Department of Transportation, described digital billboards as an "invaluable resource."
The idea for the public-private partnership was born in a 2014 winter storm that snarled traffic in metro Atlanta.
Conner Poe, executive director of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia, initiated talks with state agencies, aiming for direct access to digital billboards in emergencies.
Digital messages would pull from a twitter feed to notify drivers of risks such as emergencies, weather, traffic, and more. Messaging would be area-specific based on hashtags used. With each new tweet, digital billboards would be updated.
In 2015, the idea was tested, and it worked. In January 2016, the system was again tested as part of a winter weather advisory.
Ten months later, as Hurricane Matthew headed to the US from the Caribbean, Poe and state agencies knew it was time to "go live."
Pre-approved templates with the headline PUBLIC SAFETY ALERT include a field to populate Twitter messages.
"The state uploaded its messages directly to our digital billboards," said Kate Trainor, Lamar Advertising Company. "There were no middlemen."
Lamar's inventory of digital billboards in Georgia matched the locations of the storm threat along the East Coast. Some digital billboards could not immediately post emergency messages due to loss of power.
For nearly a decade, government agencies have used donated space on digital billboards to communicate with the public:
- More than 1,500 AMBER Alerts have been transmitted to digital billboards from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children since 2008.
- The FBI says it has apprehended 54 fugitives as a direct result of tips prompted by "wanted posters” on digital billboards.
- Florida's pioneering partnership with the state emergency agency is featured on the website of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
- Local authorities use digital billboards to assist law enforcement, find missing persons, and deliver emergency information.