A Tweet in the Dark – Social Media in crisis communications
But surveys showed us large populations of our riders generally have smartphones and nearly all are online. We have also learned that the fans of our system want to interact — in good times and bad.
So, we built a Facebook fan page and drew fans by posting news stories and photos. We invited them to “like” us for a chance to win tickets and transit passes to a huge holiday event where parking is a pain. We asked riders to “Snap Yourself” on board and post the photos to our page to win a Nook or an iTouch. We now have a solid fan following.
We also boosted Twitter activity. Transit buffs appreciate interesting articles about new technology or government initiatives. Our daily commuters retweet service alerts about late trains or weekend ticket deals. We added hundreds of followers in six months.
But all the analytics show us clearly when social media has proven most valuable to our customers: in the midst of crisis.
The first event, which served as a good training exercise, was December 2010. Floods inundated our busiest commuter station and water wiped out parts of the tracks. We didn’t have Coaster train service for four days. People wanted to know when it would be back.
Twitter and Facebook offered those updates, and an easy way for our staff to post service updates from home through the holidays. It helped that we had already built our fan base through other promotions and steady interaction. Even if people weren’t Twitter followers, they could watch our feed directly on our homepage.
They generally didn’t express anger at the lack of service. Rather, dozens tweeted thanks for the updates.
But that was just the appetizer to the Great September Blackout of 2011. The instant meltdown left almost 7 million people in the southwestern United States and Mexico in the dark. What do people do when the power goes out in the middle of the work day? They go home. But a look out the window showed gridlock. Traffic lights were dark.
How would we let them know our rail systems are still up and running in an information void? All but one radio station broadcast dead air. People weren’t watching television. Cell phone calls dropped. Texting was dodgy. We didn’t know who had enough laptop power to receive our emailed press alerts …
So on top of our other efforts, we tweeted. Much to our surprise, Twitter followers were quickly among the most informed people in the county. They followed blackout news and shared it with their neighbors. The press and local governments picked up our tweets, retweeted and used our information in their press conferences (which, ironically, few could watch). In the first two hours, we had 100 new Twitter followers. Overnight, we added hundreds more. Thousands rode our trains and buses home that day.
The next day, we got calls from other government agencies wondering how we got word out so well.
San Diego government agencies are constantly preparing crisis plans for “the Big One” — that major earthquake that seems inevitable. We’ve realized social media has to be a major part of that plan. Is it part of yours?
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
SEPTA Reaches Out to ‘Hackers’ to Further Social Media Presence
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with the community it serves on a recent social media project that has yielded multiple success stories — with more expected to come.
In October 2011, SEPTA launched its Developer Network Initiative with a "Hackathon" that created a unique partnership between the local tech community and SEPTA's in-house IT talent. SEPTA data, such as schedules and on-time performance information, has been a keen point of interest in the development of apps and other online tools aimed at giving riders travel information.