An important consideration with Twitter, and any other social media platform, is whether or not the transit agency is able to commit the time required to write updates and respond to messages. Having a rarely updated Twitter or Facebook page only serves to undermine the positive effects of social media. Rather than an inviting and open forum for discussion and news, it becomes stale and unappealing. The transition is surprisingly easy.
Like most systems, BART uses a mixture of social media channels to communicate with the public. In addition to Twitter, BART also uses Facebook and boasts an impressive 8,000 fans.
Houston Metro was one of the first agencies in the United States to commit to a regular and interactive blog, which has been going strong since January 2007. This year, it added a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. George Smalley says, “We like to use the right tool for the right occasion. We use Twitter for immediate service issues, we use Facebook for corporate communications, and we use blogs for more detailed general information, such as explaining a new route or service.”
Jennifer Kalczuk, External Relations manager of The Rapid (Transit Authority for Grand Rapids Metro) says, “The Rapid has been using social media for almost a year (started in January 09) as another means to communicate with our customers and the broader community. Currently we use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. We see these media as having different applications and different capabilities than our Web site. The Web site is built for information or specific functions, such as finding a route schedule or purchasing tickets. Social media is created for interaction. This helps to build trust, open up dialog and increase transparency. We’ve created a number of how-to videos that are posted to our YouTube channel, like advice for the first-time rider and how to use the bike racks and fareboxes. The Rapid is in the middle of creating a 20-year transit master plan and using social media has allowed us to reach and engage new audiences in the process.”
The Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT) System started its social media presence in April of 2009. GBT had been considering the use of one or more of the social networks to supplement outreach activities for several years. In April 2009, GBT decided to use Facebook as part of its efforts to promote a series of Earth Day activities. The overall goal was, of course, to increase ridership, but GBT was also rolling out a new brand and working toward an improved image in the communities it serves. Facebook appeared to be a perfect addition to this effort. In early April 2009, GBT activated a fan page.
Development Manager Doug Holcomb states, “During the planning of our Facebook page and prior to launch, there were numerous skeptics who feared it would be a public forum for agency bashing. Some staff members noted that opening such a page would invite a barrage of criticisms and the agency would spend too much time addressing them. Senior management, however, was onboard from the start.”
Senior management was right. General Manager/CEO Ron Kilcoyne says, “Since the page went live we have had nothing but positive feedback and legitimate comments or observations about our services and we have been able to respond to all of them. While Facebook allows page administrators to “hide” or delete comments, we did not plan to and have not had to use this feature.”
The Orange County Transportation Authority recently launched a public “e-volvement” program to optimize community involvement and public participation utilizing cost-effective social media tools to create opportunities for meaningful public engagement.
On average, OCTA and its communications employees receive approximately 300,000 mentions on social media networks in a week — a high number of views considering it is without the associated cost of paid advertising or promotions. “OCTA’s social media program is integrated into our public outreach efforts,” says Ted Nguyen, manager of OCTA’s public communications and media relations department. “It doesn’t replace — but rather enhances — our ongoing communications and outreach work.”