Transit agencies have been in the social media arena for awhile now and have learned some lessons along the way.
Samantha Cross, business development director for Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp. (IndyGo), explains their first jump in four or five years ago. “We launched a MySpace page off our website and it was kind of lukewarm.” As MySpace fell out of popularity, it knew it was time to switch over to Facebook a couple years back.
“We didn’t have a lot of followers on MySpace and I don’t think we handled it well; it was like a test,” Cross says. “We probably didn’t think it through, we just did it because we thought, here’s a trend.”
For the second round, launching Facebook and Twitter, she says IndyGo hunkered down and developed standard operating procedures and strategized about what this medium can offer in communication.
New Media, New Engagement
“In my interpretation, all communications media is social because it invites interaction, even a print piece invites some kind of interaction between the creator and the user,” says Morgan Lyons, director, media relations with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).
With so many applications, programs and platforms available now, he says there’s no silver bullet, so they use a wide variety. “You don’t tend to find a lot of people who really use all of them,” he says. “You find a lot of people who really, really like Facebook, but don’t do Twitter, or they really, really like email or subscription-based services but they rarely use Facebook or Twitter.”
Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) Website Manager Tim Moore says, “You file that under the rubric, you have to fish where the fish are.” He continues, “Agencies can do some relatively simple, straightforward survey work to determine what platforms are being used the most, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever, and look at their particular marketing and specific customers to see how they prefer to be engaged on these platforms.” He adds, “That can be used as a way to target the effort a little bit more effectively.”
As Sound Transit Communications Specialist Jaime Vogt says, social media gives riders new channels into your agency. Riders were used to connecting with the customer service department, now the communications department has a lot more interaction. “I think that just helps keep our department keep our riders, top of mind.”
TransLink developed a strategy to connect with its customers digitally. “In 20 years or so, the demographic of who is currently young today — 18 to 25 years old — probably like 80 percent of our ridership, we need to know how to connect with them now as opposed to having to catch up later on,” says Jhenifer Pabillano, online communications advisor for TransLink. “With social media, there’s a larger way for our agency to have our messages delivered directly to our customers.”
Drew Blevins, director of marketing with TriMet, says TriMet’s participation in social media has provided more avenues to communicate with the customers at a relatively low cost. “We have a better understanding of rider issues by way of their active online comments and conversations with each other and with us.”
The use of social media has become more refined by agencies as they’ve been learning how to communicate with their stakeholders. “A lot of transit agencies kind of looked at the social platforms as a way to push messaging out, kind of similar to the whole, ‘Let’s push out a press release and then go home and go to bed and then see how it plays in the newspaper the next day,’” says BART’s Moore. “It’s not like that,” he stresses. “It’s got to be a two-way conversation where customers are communicating with you, raising issues, you’re addressing those issues, having that dialogue, having that engagement, making it a true communications medium.”