New Media Marketing

Feb. 15, 2012

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.”

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,,, and then a couple years ago started its site optimized for mobile viewing, 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.

“We think it’s important to speak with one voice and that’s why we bring everything back to our Web pages, because that way we have a consistent message and consistent information.”

To resolve the multiple-page issue, Lyons says, “We told Facebook, ‘Hey, there are three pages, none of them are official pages and one of them is pornographic and needs to come down immediately.’” He says, “Facebook had it down within, I want to say 24 hours; they were right there.”

As for the other pages, DART sent messages directly to the page creators. “The others were, ‘Hey, we see you are out there,’ and we were able to get contact information and say we’ve got an official page, we would like for you to take your page down.” He says one took it down right away and the other put up a message directing its followers to the DART official page and within a month or so, the page was gone.

Sound Transit’s start in Twitter coincided with the opening of its Link light rail launch. Marketing & Creative Services Manager Tim Healy says they were concerned about crowd control because Phoenix had such long lines when they launched its system; Twitter was a potential way to establish controlled lines.

“Jaime and I were actually in the command post for the light rail launch tweeting where the lines were shorter, when entertainment was starting at each station and responding also to media inquiries at the time.” He adds, “It was kind of our first real practical use of Twitter.”

“It really showed us the power of it because we were able to get real-time updates from people who were at the event, to hear what was going on,” says Vogt. “People would mention an interesting act and we were able to mention it on our stream. It got us into good practice into how to utilize and build off hash tags and share information in real time.”

Now with Twitter, Healy says they’re finding the riders are getting alerts out to people quicker than they sometimes are. “They’ll be stuck on a train and we’ll be monitoring the Twitter traffic and they’ll give quicker, real-time information than we will from our controls.”

For DART’s Twitter feed, Lyons says it was a bit of a defensive posture for starting. “We knew people were talking about us and we could respond in that space.” He adds, “And we’ve increasingly found that it’s a good way for us to send information during service disruptions or when things are just kind of going on.”

One event they serviced was the Texas State Fair, a three-week period where 3 million people attend the fair. On top of that, a couple of the weekends are huge football games, Lyons says. “You’ll probably have 80,000 people at the game but about three times that having the experience at the fair.”

The first year they had the rail service he says they didn’t do a very good job on a number of levels, one of them being communication. “This time we redid our service to accommodate it and one of the things we did was to give updates.

“We created a subscriber base of folks who could get updates,” he explains. “We found that our subscriptions went up leading up to that and people with all kinds of interesting domain names from around Texas and Oklahoma,” he says. And then following the event, many weren’t following anymore because the game was over. “Those were really good ways of just communicating to a very specific audience, very specific information, in concise ways.” Lyons says they have found that their riders consistently want service alerts, particularly service disruptions.

TriMet also tweets about service and events roughly two to three times a week, says Blevins. He adds, “We respond to tweets at the rate of about two to three times a day.

“We use Twitter for sharing timely information and for taking the pulse of our riders by following the chatter about TriMet.”

TransLink joined on to Twitter because it also saw its customers were there. “Our philosophy’s really been that you go where your customers are,” Pabillano says. From monitoring key words and doing searches for places where people were talking about the agency, Twitter was an obvious one for it to get involved in.

Twitter was also a key tool to distributing messages during the Olympics. “We had a big team devoted to updating people because it was going to be critically important to make sure people were aware of the traffic situations.

“That really delivered our customer service really highly rated and this November we got our call center customer information department to do a pilot project with the Twitter account so we had someone who would sit and answer questions and put out information from 6:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night, which is the hours of our call center, more or less.”

For IndyGo, what has worked best is posting a dozen or so tweets a day with route updates because it doesn’t have any other real-time access for the public at this time. Cross says, “So what we do is kind of the old-fashioned way.

“When we get information or when we’re monitoring buses and we see buses that are more than 10 or 15 minutes late, we’re tweeting about it.” She adds, “We recently just started using the hash marks with the route number first so that way people who are only interested in route 19 can put ‘#19’ and they’ll get all the most recent tweets about route 19.”

Not all Twitter use has been about service updates and TriMet shares a success with a contest it did last year. “We created a Haiku contest for our Twitter followers, based on our key sustainability focus,” Blevins says. “Followers created Haikus based on a set of “dirty words” we’re working to eliminate, namely greenhouse gas, pollution, waste, inefficiency and congestion.”

Not only did it receive a great deal of attention, he says it was creative and fun for the agency and riders.

Further Building Through Facebook

With Facebook and Twitter, there is the ability to push the same information from one, automatically to the other. Some agencies find they utilize a lot of the same information for both, some have different audiences and tailored messages to each and others find that Facebook just hasn’t been as important a tool for their property.

Vogt says when Sound Transit started using Twitter and Facebook, it noticed that the sites had different kinds of audiences so to a certain extent it tailors the messages to each audience.

“Twitter was much more people who were on the go or maybe on our services. They tended to be mostly Link light rail riders,” says Vogt. “Facebook seemed to be people that were less likely to be using a mobile device or on our services when they were talking. They tended to be using it at a workstation or at their desktop, so for them we talk more about Sound Transit in general.”

IndyGo staff has also noticed very different audiences for their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so Cross says they can have more fun information for folks on Facebook, the “insider news” of IndyGo.

“Through the ARRA stimulus funds we were able to purchase 22 new buses that we’re just now rolling in,” says Cross. “For the first day when one of the buses was rolling in from California, we took pictures and posted them on Facebok.

“We let everybody know, ‘Hey, the new buses are here!’”

“I’ve discovered that photos are huge,” says IndyGo Manager of Marketing and Communications Sarah Knight. “They generate the most comments and very recently, someone built a snowman by one of our bus stops and I posted it and it got so many comments. Things with photos are key.”

A promotion a few months back with Dunkin Donuts was a fun event that generated a fun conversation on its Facebook page. It posted video from the event with the Dunkin Donuts’ mascot. “It’s almost a complete circle promotion,” says Cross. “Giving stuff away, meeting people face to face, then we’re posting information almost immediately; we’re just trying to come at you from all different angles.”

Green Bay Metro’s Ryan Van Handel, in public relations, says they’re using Facebook to make the riders more aware of what is happening with the agency. “It’s a way for us to let riders know detours or hours are changing; it’s a new resource for the bus system.”

TransLink has a Facebook account which Pabillano says is still at its early development. The page has about 1,300 fans, but it’s still working through the strategy for that venue right now. For its conversations, she finds a blog is easier because you can have long-form conversations where you’re building relationships through lots of discussion — a prolonged discussion. 

“I just think it’s the way people use Facebook; it’s less to do with going online to engage with a brand as it is to update your own personal stuff that contributes to a larger feed,” she says.

“The “Buzzer” blog is the offshoot of the transit newsletter that we have that appears in all of TransLink’s buses,” Pabillano says. “You’re really being able to connect to customers and really able to answer their customer service and deeper questions about our planning process and the other larger things that we’re involved in. People start to feel closer to the organization or feel that they understand what we’re doing more.”

One question and concern that comes up frequently with many of the social channels, including Facebook, is how to build your fans, your friends, your followers, etc. This past Christmas, The T in Fort Worth had a creative twist added to its annual tradition which tied in the real world and online realm.

An annual event for The T is the Holiday Lights Tour. A lot of buses go out to a particular area and look at the Christmas lights. As Maxwell says, it’s a way to engage non-traditional customers and a lot of people that have never ridden The T before.

“For years and years and years we’ve always had where you could have your picture taken with Santa,” says Maxwell. “We used a Polaroid that just printed out a little picture for them. That’s the way they used to do it.

“Well they don’t have those anymore; Polaroid doesn’t make that camera or film at all anymore. So we thought how could we do this?”

Taking pictures and printing them out is a costly hassle, so the solution was to post the pictures to The T’s Facebook page. “We loaded all several hundred photos there on our Facebook site and we handed out little cards that said in a few days, this will be up on our Facebook site, so go check it out.”

Maxwell explains in the information it handed out there was a disclaimer that these photos would be going online. Kids had the option of sitting on Santa’s lap to tell him what they wanted for Christmas without getting their picture taken.

Another way that it has built up followers to its page is through the targeted ads on Facebook. Generally they’re about special services, such as “Ride the TRE to see the Mavericks,” and it directs Facebook users to The T’s page for additional information.

“The thing I like about it,” Maxwell says, “we can get actual metrics. We know exactly how many people are clicking through.

“It seems to be good because it’s really fairly cheap. It seems to be cost-effective.”

Location-Based Offers Different Opportunities

Location-based social media platforms have been gaining popularity in some areas and again, when some agencies saw that riders kept “checking in” at their stations, stops and on their vehicles, they went to where their riders are. Two properties that offer “badges” in Foursquare are TransLink and BART.

Moore says they were seeing on Twitter, that a lot of BART customers were checking in at the stations using Foursquare. He says the percentage of Foursquare users compared to the percentage of riders is relatively small, so they’re viewing the interaction in this space as kind of an experiment. They’re also thinking of ways to growing that and adding value to the customers in that space.

“The thing that really drew us to it, is that it’s a great way, No. 1 for our customers to communicate with each other while they’re en route using our services,” says Moore. “It’s also a great way for us to communicate with customers while they’re using our service and third, it’s a really good way for us to expose station area locations for the businesses and events and the services that are around our stations in the communities that we serve because it’s also in our interest to help create more vibrant communities.”

It’s also been working on Junaio, an application riders can use to see things in real time on their smart phone overlaid on a map, such as real-time train arrivals.

TransLink originally created its Foursquare badge for the Olympics as people would be using the system a lot, so it thought it would be another thing people could do while on transit to make it more fun and for the agency to offer tips practical to where the riders were.

As the Super Bowl comes to Fort Worth, The T is going to partner with downtown Fort Worth in the area where ESPN will be set up, Sundance Square. “They will be set up for a week,” says Maxwell. “We’re going to use Foursquare and when people check in at our stations, we’re going to start giving them points.

“When they get enough points, we’ll give them the Sundance Square gift card and vice versa; when people shop at the merchants downtown, they can get prizes, free passes.”

Maxwell says, “As far as I can tell about Foursquare, the business model’s about figuring out how to get people to come to your establishment and you have to give them some type of award.

“Here we have a whole shopping district, plenty of people who could check in, they’re already in to it. What we want to do is to get their people to come to the train station and get our people to go to their retail locations.”

QR Codes Create Instant Connections

Another way that agencies are connecting the real world to the online world is through the use of QR codes, quick read codes. QR codes are the little square, black-and-white barcodes that are starting to pop up in print ads, on TV ads and on various signs or billboads. You scan the code with your smart phone (once you have the scanning app, you scan the code as you would take a picture) and then you are directed to a website.

At Sound Transit it has been using the code on an ad on its vehicles for a call for developers to help develop mobile apps for the agency.

Vogt says, “We launched a developer site earlier this year, it’s still pretty sparse, with the goal being that the more of our data that we make public, the more we can leverage the local development community to develop trip-planning tools for our riders.” She adds, “We don’t have the in-house ability to develop specialized apps for each device.

“We wanted to market this new site, but we knew it was a very limited audience that would be interested in it, so we just targeted our software development centers and we wanted to have a dominant image that would maybe only “speak” to that subgroup, so we put just a blank ad with a QR code that would lead developers to the new site.”

Healy adds that they’ve also been experimenting with QR codes with construction signage when expanding the light rail system. “Project people want us to tell the entire life of the project on the sign, so we’ve been experimenting using the codes for more information.

“Someone can just take a picture with their smart phone and it takes them to the project page on our website and they can get that information without putting it all on the signage.”

Measuring Success with New Media

The majority of marketers has already shifted focus and knows that measuring success of online marketing is less about all of the numeric indicators and more about the engagement, reach and influence.

When it comes to measuring ROI, BART’s Moore laughs, “Yeah, I think that’s the million-dollar question, really.

“Everyone is really looking at how to measure efficacy of the potential.” He asks rhetorically, “How do you measure the ROI on your telephone system?

“Because you can’t apply traditional cost-benefit metrics, doesn’t mean that there isn’t value.”

At Sound Transit, one story that came up was someone mentioning on Facebook that they got the transit card a couple of months ago and they were excited to use it for the first time when they went to the airport. Vogt says, “Us on this side knew that the card probably went into hibernation mode, so we were able to warn that person that their card probably wasn’t going to work and to avoid missing their flight, they would want to call this number and reactive it.”

Blevins had an example to the kind of feedback they get from time to time that reinforces the appreciation from their customers. The message thanked TriMet for a service alert email sent out because the rider was asthmatic and anything to do with chemical smells or smoke issues were of concern. The rider goes on to say, “Thank you for being transparent about matters like this. I am impressed by your actions and respect TriMet when they communicate this way. Keep up the great work!”

Pabillano says that the comments she gets about how much the Buzzer blog has meant to people and how excited they are to hear from TransLilnk has been amazing. “To get these commendations and people saying that the work that I do with the blog has made things better, has shown that our agency can demonstrate change, that it has given them behind-the-scenes looks and an understanding of what we do that they haven’t gotten before … has been really amazing.”

One measurement that many mention is how the number of hits to their website coming from Facebook, Twitter or other social media channels where they’re active, has grown tremendously.

Managing New Media

One of the things that DART’s Lyons stresses is that it’s not free. “People will say, ‘This is free.’ Yeah, the account is free, but you’re going to spend time doing that and managing the time’s a big thing.”

Blevins says, “We don’t have the resources to provide complete, full-time service detour/delay information or to be fully engaged in all conversations. We pick and choose based on customer needs and our ability to respond with useful information.”

“Social media isn’t a one-way conversation, it isn’t a conversation with thousands of people,” says Sound Transit’s Vogt. “It’s a conversation with one person. So be willing to invest time to have a conversation with just one person, recognizing that conversation can be seen by thousands of people.”

BART’s Jordan agrees that time management can be a challenge. “With just a two-person staff, obviously you have to set priorities and social is going to fall by the wayside if you’re dealing with a major issue that requires immediate attention on the website.”

Lyons explains that earlier in the morning, there were several tweets about service problems that customers had done that needed addressing. And of the three-person work group, he was the only one on.

“It was one of those things where, OK, I need to stop what I was doing and address those and so that just inserted about a half hour in my day.”

Lyons also says that at DART, they take the “it takes a village” approach. “While there are two or three of us primarily responsible for the care and feeding of the new media platforms, we can’t do that without a lot of serious help and support from a lot of other groups.

“When we call our operations people, they know we’re calling because we’re always kind of on deadline, and so we typically get very good response and that’s been very helpful.”

The Dark Cloud of Negative Conversations

When it comes to dealing with negative comments or the fear of negative comments, it seems that it’s not nearly as daunting as people imagine. And as Pabillano points out, “Those conversations already exist whether you’re participating in them or not. Being a part of social media helps you be a part of that conversation and maybe steer the direction that might be positive for your organization.

“But at this point now, all you have is the negative things that people are saying that you don’t get to participate in, so for some people it might be a missed opportunity.”

“I think the challenge with negative comments is more the internal fear of them,” Vogt says with a laugh. “I think after all this much worry about negative comments it’s been a real pleasant surprise at how few there are.”

Pabillano shares a similar sentiment. “There was no overwhelming barrage of really angry people who have showed up and made life misery. It really hasn’t happened that way.”

“The most important thing to remember is first of all, don’t panic. It’s not as scary as it seems,” says Vogt. “And I think they’ll find they’ll get much more positive outlook then they will a negative outlook. “

“I think agencies need to develop a bit of a thicker skin on these things,” says BART’s Moore. “Just because they’re not being said in a public place, doesn’t mean they’re not being said and it doesn’t mean they’re not things that the agency shouldn’t address.

“I think you gain a great deal of equity when you talk with your customers and address these negative things, because otherwise you’re just Pollyana-ish, just positive things in a positive context and everybody knows that that’s not the way things really are.”

This past year, TriMet created a Blog Response Team to monitor local blogs and to respond with useful, thoughtful, accurate information after discovering misrepresented information and to get involved in the conversation. “This team is made up of communications professionals within the agency who, as content experts, can respond in a timely manner when bloggers present important information about our agency incorrectly or inadequately,” Blevins says.

Of course at times the negative comments will come or you will have negative news you will have to communicate.

“We try to stay on message and address real issues,” Blevins says. He also says they have a response “triage” chart that is used by the U.S. Air Force and Ohio State Medical Centers to help them manage.

Cross says IndyGo’s process is to ask for those that have a specific comment or complaint that they go through either the website or the call center to lodge that complaint. “We don’t want this to necessarily be, ‘This bus driver was mean to me today.’ There’s a way for us to handle that.”

For someone that has a specific problem, Cross says they urge the person to go to the customer call center or website and lodge a formal complaint so there can be appropriate follow up. “If it keeps up, there’s just general negativity, we’ll try to answer it on Facebook. If it keeps going, we go offline and we contact that person.”

She explains there was someone on Twitter that used excessive inappropriate language. “He was frustrated and he had every right to be frustrated, just the way he was handling it wasn’t great.”

He was invited in to come and talk about his complaints. “That assured him that he is being heard and that he needs to continue to go through the proper channels to launch his complaints or comments or we’ll never fix his concerns.”

She adds, “We didn’t want to block him; we didn’t want to get into that.” IndyGo hasn’t blocked anyone and continues to contact those necessary directly and to deal with them one on one.

“At that point they’re pretty desperate to be heard and we want to give that to them, but we don’t want to have a public exchange over Facebook or Twitter. We won’t go back and forth 10 times with somebody.”

BART’s Jordan says that having been engaged with riders early and having lines of communication open helps to be humanized and people to have trust that it’s not just a spin control sort-of-thing.

At the time of writing this, BART was dealing with a major service delay event in the system. “As we worked it to communicate through all our channels — not just social but email channels, on the website and through our SMS texting — as we worked to communicate this, we passed the 10,000 threshold of our Twitter followers,” says Jordan. “Even in times when you’re communicating negative information or information that’s not favorable for customers, they are seeing value in the channel and it just seems like a bit of an ironic way to pass 10,000.”

From Complainer to Champion

BART further explains that the negative commentators can turn into advocates for the system. One example it’s seen this is with the issue of 24-hour service, to which it has a place on the website where it explains the reasons why there isn’t 24-hour service available.

As Moore is explaining how customers create a network of people who inform their friends, Jordan pulls up a recent Facebook post where someone was asking again for 24-hour service. She says one of the recent comments was “24-hour service is impossible with only two tracks, they have to do maintenance.

“So just as he [Moore] says, customers are carrying the message for us and it has a little more credibility when it’s coming from non people-like-us.”

“I hate to say it, we’re borrowing influence from our customers and they can carry our message for us and it is so much more valuable,” says Moore.

Jordan adds, “And they’re real people; it’s authentic.”

“Our experience has been that even people who are critical, sometimes turn into an advocate or at least they’ll say they appreciated getting the answer or having their concerns listened to,” says Moore. “So being there, the negative feelings are going to be happening anyways. If you’re out there dealing with them and acknowledging them from your customers, you’re better off than just a wall of silence.”

Just Starting

 “I think we experienced what other transit agencies experienced, too much of the hesitancy comes from the legal side, afraid of things like public disclosure and how you’re going to retain comments and do they become official public comment when somebody Tweets,” says Sound Transit’s Healy.

As he says, “Jaime is very confident about it and understanding it and that policy, so there’s a level of confidence in that she understands it, but they don’t have to.”  Another way to raise the agency’s comfort level, Vogt says, is that up front on the platform, being clear about what the conversation means. “We try to do that on the front pages of our Facebook and Twitter pages, plus what level of service this interaction means.

“It’s not official public comment, that it’s a conversation and that goes into directing them to the right channels when they do want to say things more officially.”

TriMet’s Blevins offers some simple thoughts, “Start small. Establish rules. And, be consistent.

“The old paradigm of just pushing information out is no longer acceptable to customers. They want, and expect, bilateral communication. They want to have a voice. They want to be heard.”