Panama’s Tweeting Potholes

Posted by in potholes

We’ve always heard the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Panama City, Panama it’s the tweeting potholes that get fixed.

The city by the big canal is growing by leaps and bounds, with newly built high-rise condominiums, office towers, banks and hotels changing the skyline. But the streets haven’t kept up with the buildings – in fact, construction has probably contributed to the poor quality of the city’s streets already suffering from years of neglect. So a local news station, Telemetro Reporta, engaged the marketing firm P4 Ogilvy & Mather to tweet-shame the city into taking action.

It’s tactically simple and likely to inspire imitators wherever cars meet pavement deterioration. The agency placed six, five-inch diameter, hockey-puck shaped devices, emblazoned with the familiar hashtag symbol (#) and comprised of motion sensors, pressure gauges and RF transmitters. Coordinators place them manually, then move them every few days to different potholes in streets of the city’s downtown. When a car, truck or bus tire triggers the device, a Twitter account tweets a message to the Panamanian Ministry of Public Works.

Preloaded messages include “Fix me! I’m endangering lives!,” “I feel horrible. I just caused tire damage to an old lady’s car,” “Hit me baby one more time. OK no, just avoid me,” “Tru…ck…whe…els…a…re…hit..ing…me…it…hu…rts…” and “If I can wait a year to watch Game of Thrones again, I can wait for @MOPdePanamato to fix me.”

The campaign launched in April 2015 and by August more than 2,000 such tweets were sent and 5,500 followers generated. Add television coverage and Twitter interactions to make 29.3 million media impressions. A spokesperson for the agency handling the project told Newsroom.cisco.com, “Work on the first hole that tweeted started within 24 hours,” he said. “They are reacting rather fast.”

Why is social media the new tool for fixing streets? “We feel that what made this fun and engaging was that we actually turned the potholes into characters, a superhero of sorts, with a rather funny personality,” the spokesperson said.

Inquiries about copying the campaign and specifically the tweeting devices have come from India, Ireland, the UK and South Africa. These are potholes with a voice – heard on a global scale.