“We directly participate in many conversations to ensure our community members know we’re listening, and to share information and additional insights with our community,” says Ellen Burton, OCTA’s executive director of External Affairs. The OCTA Facebook fan page serves as a hub for our other social media efforts with posts of YouTube videos, links to other project pages, photos of construction milestones, slideshows with important rail safety information, and other postings to invite people to community events or share photos of past events.
Putting a Face to OCTA on YouTube
The OCTA team also developed a YouTube segment called “Transportation in 2” using an inexpensive Flip video camera. OCTA has been able to capture major events on camera, including its new CEO Will Kempton’s first ride on an OCTA bus and the groundbreaking ceremony of a new lane on the SR-91.
OCTA’s communications team also captured Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and other Southern California officials in a news conference to announce a $4.7 billion application to fund high-speed rail in California. The Anaheim-to-Los Angeles section of high-speed rail is anticipated to be America’s first segment with an iconic transportation gateway called ARTIC, or the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.
“Creating these videos is quick, easy and extremely cost-effective,” says Sarah Swensson, who anchors the videos. “The style of the video is not slick or overproduced — it’s authentic — which matches the tone of the current economic climate. It has more than 6,000 views and public feedback is really supportive with people sharing with us all the time their appreciation of OCTA doing more with less.”
OCTA is not the only transit system jumping on YouTube. The Florida Public Transportation Association is planning a statewide contest. It is encouraging Floridians to post their positive and funny experiences using Florida public transit, and hopes to harvest clips and stories that the individual transit agencies can use.
Houston Metro is growing its YouTube channel and recently posted a parody of a Bob Dylan video that features the benefits of transit. DART in Dallas has a YouTube channel featuring interviews with a variety of staff and riders.
The nature of social media is that it is a two-way street. It’s built to be interactive, unlike more traditional Web sites that simply post route maps and news releases. Web sites integrated with social media are often called Web 2.0.
Web technology incorporating geographic positioning systems (GPS) technology can change the nature of what it means to wait for the bus. Many systems are posting “bus tracking” on the Web, as is the case with the Gainesville Florida Regional Transit System. Visitors to its Web site can watch the progress of every bus in the system online, live. “Gator Locator is a partnership between RTS and the University of Florida which allows UF and our other riders to see the GPS location of the equipped buses at any given time,” say Jesus Gomez, RTS transit director. “The implementation of the system has decreased the number of calls to our customer service center as people can check the bus position from their mobile phone, computer or through our Web site. We have gotten many compliments from our riders and have seen more than 5 million hits to the Gator Locator page in the last year.”
Dan Johnson-Weinberger, a transit lobbyist and advocacy consultant, says, “Transit leaders need to start thinking about sales, not just service. Social media forces someone at the agency to think like a salesperson, because they will be in touch with riders and potential riders directly.”
He states that another benefit is that it is easier to organize a constituency of voters who support more transit investment if the agency is constantly growing their base of riders who voluntarily associate through social media. He encourages systems to build their bases using social media. “When it’s time to go for a referendum or to the legislature, those connected riders and supporters will be some of the most important volunteer advocates for the cause.”
Social media is another valuable tool available to help agencies communicate with their stakeholders. As Doug Holcomb of Bridgeport Transit says, “It is understood that not everyone has a Facebook page but the GBT believes the use of social networks, like Web pages, will rapidly become more common place and the agency’s fan base will grow. We intend to increase its use and will be considering the use of other social networks and what they can do for our riders.”