Ask The DP Pro – Dan Lucarelli

Q I’m trying to use social media to share the damage prevention message, but it just doesn’t seem to be working. How can I increase my social media reach?

A BY Dan Lucarelli


OUR PURPOSE IS TO PREVENT DAMAGE TO UNDERGROUND UTILITIES. These nine simple words define a mission that drives everything we do at Pennsylvania 811 – from how we answer our phones, how we invest in our business, what our stakeholders expect from us, and how we approach education and outreach. Nine simple words.

One of the ways we conduct outreach is through social media. According to Wikipedia, “Social media are interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas… and other forms of expression via virtual communities, …user-generated content…[ and] development of online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with those of other[s].” You may know of social media by some of its practitioners: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many, many others.

The attraction to social media is straightforward: access to millions of stakeholders for no cost other than staff time and content creation. Messages can be amplified with paid advertising to specific demographic groups stakeholders belong to. Just as important, the number of active users on major social media platforms has grown 16% in less than a year.

As you develop and implement social media outreach that supports your damage prevention efforts, a review of seven simple social media rules can help grow your audience and keep your message to stakeholders on target to help prevent damages.

  1. PICK ONE OR TWO PLATFORMS TO DO WELL. Pennsylvania One Call focuses on two social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter. We use Facebook for consumer messaging and reporting on our outreach activities. Twitter uses much of the same messaging. We have found that, although both platforms have common followers, we see consumers liking us on Facebook and professionals/regulators/government accounts following us on Twitter.
  2. TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOU ARE. It’s one thing to build a presence on social media: it’s another thing entirely to make stakeholders aware of your presence. One way we do this is with our company email signatures, which include, Follow us on Twitter! and Like us on Facebook! Every email sent by every employee has these lines in the email signature.
  3. HAVE SOMETHING RELEVANT TO SAY. You will get likes to your page and followers to your Twitter feed if you have relevant content that stakeholders are interested in. PA One Call curates content from our educational events (the liaison team sends pictures), our outreach efforts (pictures of banners, pictures of fire house marquees), our schedule of events (reminding stakeholders to register for classes), and industry-specific events (Click here for the DIRT report). Content created by you is more relevant than re-posting content from others. Work on a plan to create content from your other outreach efforts. Speaking of content…
  4. PICTURES, PICTURES, PICTURES! One picture is worth more than a thousand words. Today’s social media is fiercely competitive and pictures capture the attention of followers. Pictures tell a story. They add attention to text, connect with followers, support your mission, communicate emotion and add attention to groundswell. You should consider pictures with every post.
  5. TAG! TAGGING IS A WAY TO CONNECT OTHERS TO YOUR OUTREACH. Pennsylvania One Call uses two types of tagging: Forward tagging (Example: “Pennsylvania 811 is in @MoonTownship today… FREE Excavator Training. Sign up now!”) helps to push our message to Facebook users. Hash Tags can be thought of as backward tagging, to help users find previously posted content they are interested in, such as this example: “Thank you, Warren Twp. Volunteer Fire Dept. for promoting safe digging within your community. We appreciate your service! #Firehouse811 #Call811.”
  6. HAVE FUN WITH THE UNEXPECTED. Social media is a less formal mode of communication and outreach. It’s OK to have some fun with messaging, especially when a stakeholder engages with you in a way that supports your message. Pennsylvania 811 received a firehouse marquee image submission that remains one of our best to date.
  1. PATIENCE, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER. It takes time to build a long-lasting social media presence. It takes time to get a sense of the messages you want to send and the tone you want to use. It takes time to curate relevant, high-quality content. It takes time to build a following. By following the previous six rules, you can build a good foundation that helps grow your outreach and prevent damage to underground utilities.

What has worked for you? Send me a note so we can learn from each other.

Dan Lucarelli is the Director – Marketing & Education for Pennsylvania One Call System, Inc. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Slippery Rock University (PA) and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. Dan is a member of the Common Ground Alliance, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at


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