Agencies have learned to use it as another one of their marketing tools, not some separate entity. You determine your target audience, what the goals are for that audience and then select the tools that are the best fit.
Instant and Direct Notification
Getting messages pushed directly to users’ cell phones or emails can provide immediate service updates, upcoming events and other timely transit news.
TriMet offers customers the option to subscribe to any and all of its bus and rail lines, along with 13 other categories of information and services. Currently there are about 28,000 TriMet subscribers.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) built up its database with a contest that tied in to the agency’s 25-year anniversary. Riders could text something to the particular number and they had a chance to win a T 25-year annual pass. The T collected a lot of numbers and as Richard Maxwell, assistant vice president of marketing, explains, to opt in to the contest, they had to allow The T to send them updates periodically.
Lyons talks about two services they use at DART for that, GovDelivery and Nixle. GovDelivery is a mass email or notification service and Nixle was introduced to DART by its police. Nixle sends out short email alerts that directs people to your website. “You can subscribe to it, just like you do with Twitter or Facebook,” Lyons says. “Where as pretty much anybody can post stuff to Facebook, with Nixle, you can’t. There is a vetting process to ensure that if something is on the DART page or the DART account, it’s been put there by DART people.”
Moore also says the subscription-based email messaging and SMS messaging works well for BART for delays, news and project-based information sharing. For those wanting to know what is happening on the Warm Spring Project, that is something you can sign up and receive updates for. With SMS on Demand, riders can text a command into a short code, like “bart delay” and it will automatically send back what the status of the system is.
And to get more specific, Moore says, “If you text, ‘bart 12th,’ you’ll receive back ETAs at BART 12th Street Station.” He adds, “What we’re really trying to do is get all of this messaging in to as many channels as possible.”
By providing this information in a raw feed format, or in a normalized format, third-party developers and other websites can take the information and use it as well.
Moore says, “We’re sharing our data with as many people as we can in order to push our messaging onto as many platforms or channels as possible.” But for a lot of agencies, as The T’s Maxwell says marketers love it, but, “It gives IT people pause, losing control like that.”
Also providing information to the rider on the go are websites for mobile devices. DART currently has three websites, dart.org, transportadart.org, and then a couple years ago started its site optimized for mobile viewing, m.dart.org. On the go, riders are just looking for information to help them get to their destination, so not having the excess images to download; it speeds and eases their navigation process.
Building that Relationship
Most agencies have at least some sort of presence on Facebook and Twitter. The reasons for signing on for those platforms vary for agencies and, though there are commonalities in how they’re used, there are differences in how agencies connect with their stakeholders.
Transit properties often signed on to Facebook and Twitter because they saw their riders were there. And those riders were talking about the service, so it was a way to join in on the conversation.
As for DART, there were already three “DART” pages before DART started its own, official page. Lyons says, “Two of them were done by basically fans. And there was another one that, we’ll just say, wasn’t exactly family friendly, encouraging people to do things on trains and send pictures and talk about it.”
He says under Facebook’s rules, they couldn’t just tell these people to shut down their pages. “We could send them a lawyer letter about our trademark and you’re using images without our permission,” Lyons explains. “We could do that, but we really had no standing with Facebook to tell them to take the pages down.