Harnessing the Power of
What you need to know to make it work for you
A Leadership APTA 2012 Team Project prepared by:Debbie Chin, MTA, New York City Transit
Melanie Choy, San Mateo County Transit District Lynnette Ciavarella, Metra
Christina Cosgriff, MTA, Long Island Railroad
Jeff Popovich, American Public Transportation Association Deb Stenoien, King County Metro Transit
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ... 3
Introduction ... 4
Research ... 6
The Importance of Goals and Visions ... 8
Social Media in Action ... 9
Overview of Use ... 9
New and Innovative Uses ... 10
Common Challenges ... 12
Measuring Success ... 13
Guidelines ... 14
Strategy ... 14
Content Management ... 15
Organizational Considerations/Assigned Responsibility ... 16
Resource Investments ... 17
Policies ... 19
Conclusion ... 21
Appendix One: Organizations Interviewed/Surveyed ... 23
Table A: Organizations Interviewed ... 23
Table B: Organizations Surveyed ... 25
Appendix Two: Literature Review ... 28
Reports ... 28
Articles ... 28
YouTube Videos ... 28
Appendix Three: Adopted Public Agency Policies ... 29
San Joaquin Regional Transit District Social Media Policy ... 29
MetroLINK Social Media Policy... 32
Social Media is an effective communication and marketing tool that enables dialogue between transportation providers and their customers. It has quickly evolved from a novelty to a
necessity and the usage has become more widespread and commonplace. The key word describing the difference between Social Media and conventional communications is
engagement. The premise of Social Media is a dynamic, interactive conversation between you, the transportation provider, and your customers. This interactivity is at the core of both the benefits and the risks of Social Media.
Almost all transportation providers now have some Social Media presence. Currently the most popular applications are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Specific uses of these venues vary but generally the support provided is as follows: Facebook for customer outreach and marketing, Twitter for information updates, and YouTube for educational “How to” videos. Innovative uses of Social Media continue to appear both in the creative use of existing platforms and the
development of new applications.
This project explores the opportunities and risks of Social Media and outlines the factors executives should consider in their strategic plans to adopt and manage these technologies. Research for this project included literature review, interviews with twenty-four executive leaders in the transportation industry and an on-line survey.
During the course of our investigation it soon became apparent that there is already ample data and information defining Social Media and its applications. What was not as widely available however, were guidelines that would help transportation providers apply this technology effectively. Very few examples exist regarding coherent organizational policies on the subject even as usage continues to grow. Instead, Social Media strategies are being developed concurrently or as an afterthought as implementation proceeds.
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution to implementing a successful Social Media strategy. But given the flexibility of Social Media applications, transportation providers will be able to individually tailor an approach that will meet their specific business needs. As such, this paper focuses on providing executives with ideas, challenges, and guidelines on how to use Social Media to advance the mission of their organization.
“Social Media is where current and future riders are. It is a way to engage with customers and if you’re not leading the conversation, someone else is.”
- Leah Harnack
Chair, APTA’s Social Media Task Force and Editor, Mass Transit Magazine
Social Media applications have changed the communication landscape. Broad scale
communication used to be one-way; from the producer to the audience. Now not only does the audience talk back, they talk to each other and about you. In fact, your customers are already talking about you online and on their mobile devices and you need to be a part of the conversation. Consumers connect to each other at rates never previously imagined. You need to adapt your business to be connected with them to answer their questions and address their concerns on the platforms they are using. Social Media is not something you should casually be doing, it is imperative that it becomes an integral part of your business. From the line level employees to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board of Directors, there must be buy-in at every level of the organization.
As transit leaders, we must embrace the possibilities of a robust Social Media program. Our paper will share with you strategies and examples of how to harness the power of Social Media. As General Managers and CEO’s, it is important for you to:
Know your customers are talking about you,
Be thinking about Social Media and develop a strategy for incorporating it into your customer outreach,
Have a plan for when and how you will engage your customers.
The connected world we live in today includes a myriad of web and smartphone based
applications to aid your customers in their journey across your system and encourage users to interact with each other to share their experiences, opinions, and knowledge.
Earlier in 2012, a couple was married on Washington’s Metro while the train crossed the Potomac River. A Flickr user captured the moment on his iPhone and posted the photos and a short video to the site. He said he was just minding his own business on the yellow line when all of a sudden, as the train crossed the Potomac River, a wedding broke out. “These are my new
5 favorite people ever," he wrote. He added, "But if I knew I'd have been going to a wedding, I wouldn't have worn flip-flops".1
This type of interactivity distinguishes Social Media from traditional static communication tools. Your current website, printed schedules, and advertisements are great tools for providing one-way information, but they are not dynamic methods where you can engage in discussions with your customers. Social Media allows you to have that dialog with your customers and the ability to provide them with personal responses to their questions. Some good examples of this could be communicating anticipated stop closures or escalator maintenance at a station, or a response to a tweet or Facebook posting. It is important to communicate using both static and dynamic methods.
TCRP recently released report Synthesis 99, Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. The report defines Social Media as “social networking or Web 2.0 and refers to a group of web-based applications that encourage users to interact with one another.” Examples include blogs, social and professional networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, media sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, and location-based sites such as Foursquare. While there are many other dynamic Social Media sites, these are certainly the most prevalent in our industry today.
Public Transportation executives grapple with issues related to Social Media every day. As such, our paper will focus on providing the reader with ideas, challenges, and
recommendations on how to use Social Media to advance the mission of your organization, increase your ridership, and improve revenues. Specifically, the paper will:
Recap the findings from our on-line survey and share key thoughts related to Social Media by transportation executives from around the country,
Showcase Social Media vision’s and strategies being deployed by transit providers around the country,
Describe some of the common challenges with Social Media that transportation providers face,
Provide information on ways to measure success of your Social Media programs, Highlight recommended guidelines for executive management to consider in the
implementation and management of Social Media programs.
Just as email has become integral to your day to day business, Social Media should be as well. Acceptance of Social Media starts at the top. If you have buy-in and support from the highest
6 levels within the organization, your employees will be engaged. Use Social Media to capitalize on your goals by communicating information to your customers and staff in quick and efficient ways.
By being involved in Social Media, you are having a conversation with your customers and showing them that you hear them, and you’re going to be involved in your on-line community. But bear in mind that technology changes fast. Consider that Twitter was but an idea just over six years ago and today serves hundreds of millions of users social needs. Be prepared for the next big thing by having your Social Media vision sorted out and have a plan for how you will deal with anticipated changes. Follow the trends of what tools people are using and which Social Media sites they engage in and meet them there.
Social Media gives you an unprecedented opportunity to have a dialog with your customer. Granted, every customer you have is not using Social Media today, but the growth trend is strong. Social Media and mobile connectivity are here to stay and will only continue to affect how you run your agency.
As you think about your Social Media strategy, think about what happens if you’re not involved. Why would you not want to hear what your customers are saying about you? Social Media gives you a great opportunity to improve the way you talk to your customer, where and when you talk to them, and gives them greater access to information about you.
“What is the cost of ignoring your customer’s opinion?” – Michael Melaniphy, President & CEO,
American Public Transportation Association
Social Media allows you to send information directly to your customers digitally, giving them the news and information they need right now. This is a great opportunity for you to reach your customers with not only service information and updates, but provides business to business connections and information regarding other issues that your riders care about.
The findings included in the paper are informed and supported by literature research including recent publications, articles, and on-line sources. In addition, transportation providers across the country were selected to participate in an on-line survey. The survey data was also
supplemented with personal interviews of CEOs and in some case with their respective staff to gain insight on how their agencies are using Social Media and the challenges they face. The findings from the research provided the basis for the guidelines presented later in this paper.
7 Literature review was the first step in our process. The goal was to bring together and
summarize the information that was readily available. From this initial assessment, it became apparent that there is a significant amount of data and information defining Social Media and its’ uses. This literature review revealed the following general statistics about Social Media:
In 2010, 61% of on-line Americans used social networking sites
In 2012, Facebook has over 901 Million users and Twitter has over 500 Million users Average social networker is 37 years old; with adults aged 35 to 44 making up the single
largest group of social networkers (25% of site visitors) 53% of users are female while 47% are male
People aged 20 to 29 years spend more time on Social Media networks, with 43% spending 11+ hours weekly
The list of literature research can be found in Appendix Two.
An on-line survey was developed and emailed to transportation providers to ask these and other questions focused on the transportation industry. The survey was distributed through email to 87 transportation providers. A total of 32 surveys were returned for a response rate of 37%. The survey instrument and full survey results are included in Appendix Four.
Overall findings include:
72% of transportation providers did not have a Social Media plan or strategy before implementing
88% of transportation providers do not have a board adopted Social Media vision 88% of transportation providers agencies do not use Social Media to communicate
93% of transportation providers began using Social Media without a corporate policy in place
61% of transportation providers react/respond to negative information posted about their organization
53% of transportation providers have provided data to application developers 88% of transportation providers have Social Media as part of their Marketing,
Communications or Public Relations group
55% of transportation providers have staff dedicated to managing/reviewing Social Media
8 On average transportation providers are spending 10 hrs/week managing their Social
97% of the transportation providers to date have not experienced any legal issues associated with Social Media
94% of transportation providers feel that the potential of Social Media is not fully realized
57% of transportation providers place restrictions on employees Social Media activities at work
Finally, we interviewed transportation properties around the country to gain additional insight on their use of Social Media and issues they face. The following questions were asked:
Does your organization use Social Media and how?
What is your vision for Social Media use at your organization?
How do you measure the success or lack thereof of your Social Media programs? How do you justify the cost of implementing and managing Social Media when capital
initiatives and financial needs are competing for the organization’s resources?
Can you give any examples of when Social Media has hindered or benefitted you as the GM/CEO? For instance, at a board or community meeting?
Each interview was unique and interviewers were given the latitude to allow the interviewees to provide us their overall perspective. The interviews were very informative and quotes and examples from the providers are highlighted throughout the paper. A complete list of those interviewed is provided in Appendix One.
The Importance of Goals and Visions
“We use Social Media to capitalize on our mission.” – Dr. Chad Reese, CEO, Chatham Area Transit
Based on our research, it is important to have a vision for implementation when embarking into Social Media. Regardless of when (before, during or after initial implementation), defining a Social Media vision is necessary in order to stay focused in your goals and efforts in the long run; especially given the likelihood of being inundated with information and applications and the rapid pace at which the industry changes. One approach is to integrate Social Media into your strategic planning to help ensure the success of the program and that the resources devoted to it are appropriately utilized.
9 The vision is what you want to achieve and goals are how you measure getting there. As you consider your Social Media vision, you need to decide what specifically your vision will entail. How does it help you achieve your goals? How does it make your system better? How will Social Media be integrated into your agency and greater community? Social Media is here to stay and technology changes quickly. The vision needs to be flexible so that it can be adapted to future developments in Social Media applications.
Social Media in Action
Most transportation providers have a Facebook and Twitter account. And a good number of organizations have taken things further by using Social Media tools in both current and cutting edge ways. The following are examples of some common and some not so common uses of Social Media. There are an almost infinite number of examples to showcase; this set is a sampling to illustrate a cross section of uses. In showcasing these examples, we hope to make the development of your Social Media tools easier and to stimulate more ideas to build upon your vision.
Overview of Use
Using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as the underlying platforms, a number of transportation providers have expanded beyond simply having a Social Media presence to successfully improving customer relations and providing added services. Four broad categories of Social Media uses include:
Customer Connection Campaigns
Contests/Promotions to capture new or reward existing customers Real-Time Transit Information
Educating Customers and Potential customers
TriMet in Portland, Oregon created a blog tailored to its riders called, How We Roll. It is designed to be a place where TriMet riders can go for news, behind-the-scenes features and fun facts. A blog space for riders was just a starting point for TriMet. Coupled with the blog, TriMet launched a rider photo “shoot & share your story” campaign that personalizes the experience and showcases riders and their stories. TriMet actively solicited stories and riders to showcase online and even took to the streets to capture pictures of TriMet fans and riders as they got on or off buses and trains. Whether riders use TriMet to get to work, to school, or to local events and destinations, daily or just occasionally, TriMet posts a range of stories with the goal of sharing real life stories on how TriMet can make your life better.
The use of photo sharing sites to share agency activities is a growing trend in industry use. Flickr is a very familiar tool, but other tools like
10 Instagram and Pinterest are gaining ground and popularity. Long Island Rail Road uses
Instagram to share up-to-date construction project photos. This is a fun and easy way to share what is happening at your agency through a series of pictures.
Twitter and Facebook have been an extremely popular way to reach out and reward customer participation with free stuff. The T in Fort Worth, Texas hosted a trivia contest where they tweeted a trivia question and anyone who tweeted the correct answer back would win a free bus pass for the day. Another agency, Salem-Keizer Transit would designate a route that would be free for the day, and followers who received the tweet would ride free for that day. This summer, APTA sponsored a Travel Like a Local campaign, a contest that encouraged travelers to try public transit while on vacation. The contest was posted on APTA’s Facebook page and aimed to show the many benefits of public transportation, while allowing participants to share experiences. Participants entered into monthly drawings and grand prizes were awarded at the conclusion of the contest. Providing perks can be a cost effective way to build relationships with existing customers and gain new ones.
Another very common use of Social Media is to provide real- time information. Many
organizations are capitalizing on the ease of sharing this information. In fact, there are plenty of external developers, such as third party applications and feeds that are sharing real-time
information from riders themselves. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) produced a video that explains their multi-phased approach to deploy real-time information through the entire system and for different communication portals such as the internet, texting, and eventually through QR codes. Other east coast transportation providers use CooCoo (txt 266266) to provide riders with real-time train information by texting their origination and destination points. And many more operators use Twitter for service alerts, including LA Metro and Metra.
Social Media can be used to educate your customers and promote transit, such as YouTube videos. From how to ride the bus, to how to buy a subway ticket, or how to put your bike on a bus bike rack, these videos are an effective and efficient way to provide compelling and
detailed instructions to your customers and potential customers. Triangle Transit in North Carolina produced a very captivating video called ‘It’s Easy Baby’. This is a creative take on how to show the flexibility of transit and make taking transit less daunting. You can view this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOwTwjNAMNQ.
New and Innovative Uses
During our research, some very unique and creative uses of Social Media tools are being implemented by transportation providers. This is only scratching the surface and the potential
11 for even more innovative ideas is huge. Highlights of these innovative uses include:
Interactive and Dynamic Destinations on Transit Book Games and Event Promotion
Creation of Dynamic Collective Artwork
Not as common to find are Business-to-Business interactions. These can include business to business connections and conversations through Social Media but it can include matching vendors with transportation providers. Waco Transit in Texas posted a discount deal on
Facebook and offered special advertising rates to folks that “followed” them on Facebook. This is also a potential growth area for the transportation industry.
Pinterest, which is an electronic pinboard, has gained popularity in the recent year. One use of Pinterest is the promotion of fun and likable destinations along transit lines. These destination guides have traditionally been issued in print form and are static in time. Transitioning to an online guide to showcase popular destinations on transit and making it dynamic and ever changing has the potential to change the manner in which transportation agencies publish information. The application of this could also be broadened and used for other print guides. Additionally, new guidebooks and information may also be developed with the ability to use sites such as Pinterest.
You can use Social Media to promote upcoming events, such as new station openings or community meetings. This can be very cost effective in reaching out to a larger and different population to promote events. The Great Bus Race was an event in Albuquerque, NM that used Social Media and transit for the premise of the race. It was a citywide scavenger hunt that required participants to use ABQ RIDE buses and walking as their only form of transportation. Participants made their way through the city by
scanning QR codes for points and clues to their next destination. As a bonus, it was organized near National Train Day and is a good way to promote all modes of public transportation.
With the increasing significance of mobile devices in our daily lives, web based interactive gaming is becoming more prevalent. King County Metro Transit’s “B Line PULSE" is a mobile game where riders use their mobile device to respond to daily prompts based on varying weekly themes. Their responses, as well as other “unconscious” data such as time of day, location, and speed of response are then plotted together to create evolving public artwork – which is the “pulse” of the B Line community. This is one way to make the transit ride fun and connect the community.
Based on the responses to our survey questions and in our interviews with several Chief Executive Officers, there are many common challenges to implementing and managing a successful Social Media program.
Social Media Technology
While Social Media is fairly new technology; it is also technology that is still evolving. There are many Social Media sites available on the market. Many organizations find it difficult to evaluate the various options while ensuring that the methods they are choosing are those with which their riders and community are communicating with the most. Many have opted to utilize several different tools for different aspects of their Social Media plan. But with so many different tools to support, many transportation providers said that they are faced with a lack of trained staff to maintain and monitor their sites. This problem is compounded because many organizations do not have dedicated staff to support this effort. They must rely on existing staff to create a unified tone of friendly professionalism, which is in alignment with the
organization’s mission without neglecting their responsibilities to support other critical business functions.
Coordination amongst and consistency between all forms of media is a tall order.
Transportation providers should do their best to ensure that their various Social Media sites convey a consistent message, stay on topic, and do not interfere with the positive promotion of the organization. The information they present in their traditional marketing and outreach material must be tightly coordinated with the information they are presenting through Social Media so as not to confuse their customers. And lastly, staff must be creative in developing appropriate and fresh content to regularly engage with their customers.
In today’s connected world, transportation providers are finding that their customers expect them to answer their questions and provide them with information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Organizations are finding that this level of customer engagement far exceeds their commitment level. Most organizations report staffing their Social Media section 40 hours a week during a single shift, and have limited ability to provide to provide after-hours service alerts. It is important for transportation providers to set the expectations for their customers as to how often they will be responding to their inquiries or providing service information, especially if it will not be close to real-time.
Executives in transportation have reservations about exposing themselves to public criticism through Social Media venues. They are concerned about negative comments and how to respond to negative feedback. This concern seems to be overshadowing the potential value of utilizing Social Media applications. Executive management teams find it difficult to move past the underlying concept that by its very nature, Social Media can provide a platform where people can criticize the agency directly. Organizations must understand that customers are using Social Media in ever increasing numbers and that the conversations about them are
13 happening regardless of their participation. It is better to lead the conversation than to be a bystander. In addition, transportation providers are slowly realizing that negative comments can be used to their advantage. In lieu of or to supplement customer satisfaction surveys, Social Media platforms can be viewed as complimentary focus groups, providing organizations with valuable feedback from the public.
Although our research indicates that most transportation providers understand the importance of being involved in Social Media and clearly believe that their use of Social Media has not reached its full potential, they are plagued by the need to quickly adopt a culture change which they have not fully planned out.
Lastly, many transportation providers are finding it difficult to integrate Social Media into their daily business. Finding the right balance is often a challenge. Where to house and to what level to provide staff resources within their organization are common questions for many to grapple with.
It is important for executives to measure the performance of Social Media tools for their organizations. The methods and tools that currently exist for measuring performance are limited. However, this area of Social Media is still emerging and additional research is still being conducted Based on our research we have found that the following are common methods of how public transportation providers are currently gauging their success:
Metric tools provided by the respective Social Media channels, such as “likes”, “# of friends”, “posts”, “comments” on Facebook or “tweets”, “retweets” and followers on Twitter.
Level of engagement or amount of interaction between customers/potential customers and the agency
Sentiment of conversations
How well informed the public seems to be
Reduction in complaints
Whether your organization chooses to utilize the embedded analytics or reports on the number of visitors or downloads on the specific Social Media sites, it is important to have a clear set of objectives on what you are trying to achieve. This information will help your organization make adjustments in your Social Media plan so that you can continually improve. Transportation providers need to determine what they hope to gain from their efforts. Is the primary goal to reach out to your customers and create long-term brand loyalty? Or is it to provide special offers to your customers, provide up to date service information, or educate your customers on how to better use your services? In most cases, it is both.
Although your success can be easily measured quantitatively by how many people comment on your posts, or by counting the sheer number of communications exchanges to give you an
14 indication of how much engagement there is between you and your customers, Social Media experts advise that you should not get hung up on numbers alone. A click on a website does not always reflect the full story. In addition, Social Media sites do not require verification of identity. You are who you say you are and that has implications for the analytical validity of this data.
The most intangible but meaningful way to measure the success of your Social Media efforts is by the qualitative results of your target audience. Based on the objectives before you began, you should be able to measure your brand engagement or awareness of your online
community. Some of the key indicators that can be tracked and evaluated are the keywords used when social users are talking about your organization, or the positive and negative
sentiments that are shared about the service you are providing. Many organizations count the number of reconciliations they have made right by reaching out to their customers who have had negative experiences with the agency. They believe that if they make themselves
accountable on-line, people will more likely interact with them and they will be perceived as more reliable.
Another measure of success can be to evaluate how your reputation has changed in the last 3-6 months since you started Social Media engagement.
“If you’re using Social Media effectively you are working on your reputation. It’s hard to gauge but you can tell.” - Kevin Desmond, General Manager, King County Metro Transit
In our research, we found no set formulas or approaches for implementing Social Media at an organization. However, a number of common themes surfaced during our research with transportation providers and we have summarized these as guidelines in the following five subject areas to help agencies navigate, begin or improve your Social Media program.
The first important guideline is to develop a strategy for your Social Media program before you begin using Social Media. Executives will need to embrace Social Media and understands what it can do for your organization. Setting goals and developing priorities will help guide your organization. The time and money you plan on investing in Social Media should also be part of your Social Media strategy.
“Thread Social Media throughout your agency so that it is similar to email communication.”
15 By determining your goals ahead of time you will be able to have a clear idea what you expect to gain or achieve from Social Media. Some of the goals could be recruiting new customers, improving organizational image, engaging customers, provide educational materials, or retaining existing customers.
It will be imperative to position your organization to grow with the changes in technology and evolving ways of communicating. It is equally important to know your market. Not everyone is using Social Media, but for those who are heavily involved it is a great way to communicate and engage them.
Finally, make conscious decisions on your commitment to Social Media and define how active your participation levels will be. Will you respond in real-time, or use it for information purposes? Determine your level of commitment before engaging in Social Media.
Transportation providers have the need to disseminate a great deal of information in the public transportation industry. You are already creating a lot of content in your organizations, it’s just a matter of where, when and how you share it. When providing information and data to your customers, it is important to have a consistent and balanced approach. The content you publish across your various Social Media accounts, websites, and other mediums, such as smartphone applications and printed media, should not contradict and should always strive to supplement each other. While many of your customers will find they follow you more on one particular medium than another, it is still important to write your content for all of the mediums you participate in. Ensure that you have one consistent voice across all media – social, print, and electronic.
Transportation providers should not let fear of negative comments deter them from having a Social Media presence. Negative feedback can be seen as an opportunity to engage your customer directly and improve your service. The manner in which you speak to your customers is also important. Through Social Media, the tone of your message should be informal and conversational, it is acceptable to use humor, when appropriate, but avoid industry jargon. It is also important to avoid censoring your customers; however you should not allow inflammatory or inappropriate language to be posted and need to have clear guidelines about what will be acceptable for the discussion on your Social Media sites. Many of the organizations we survey were concerned that Social Media could give customers a ‘bully pulpit’ for negative comments, but most that responded said they used negative questions as a chance to highlight the positives and engage their customers in meaningful discussions about the issues they cared about.
“Social Media spreads information we don’t like, but it comes with the territory: if we have a bad reputation it will be used against us, all the more
reason to keep ahead of public opinion curve.”
- Kevin Desmond, General Manager, King County Metro Transit
Organizational Considerations/Assigned Responsibility
Another important guideline is determining who will staff and manage your Social Media efforts. First you will need to determine what department will lead your Social Media efforts, and who will have access to the tools you use. Also, who will be responsible for providing content, when will it be provided and in what formats?
Understand that you will have to deal with issues regarding employee access, private vs. professional communications, to Social Media venues. The official work related usage may inadvertently create confusion and conflict with existing policies. Currently, many
transportation providers place restrictions on employees’ Social Media activities at work. However, there has been a gradual shift in this business practice as Social Media is increasingly seen as a useful tool that will cause many employees to get involved with the interactive services that transportation providers are offering.
As you thread Social Media throughout your organization, it places a greater responsibility on each employee to understand how to deal with the impacts of Social Media in your work environment. If you have more than one person and/or group involved in your Social Media efforts, consider forming a task force to focus on customer relations and other areas you may want to highlight with your Social Media programs. In New York, the MTA conducts a Social Media Summit so that the various agencies under its umbrella could collaborate to discuss what the “next big thing” will be as it relates to Social Media and proactively plan how to manage it. Empower your staff to use Social Media and become ambassadors of your system. Make it clear what should and should not be discussed, but trust your employees to help you achieve your Social Media goals.
Social Media is typically led by the Marketing, Communications or Public Relations group in most transportation organization, with support from other areas of the organization. But some transportation providers have made organizational changes to more effectively manage their Social Media work. At BART, Social Media was originally part of the Marketing department. They have since segmented out the customer service component of their Marketing
Department and moved this area into their Communications group, so that they can focus on public relations. Michael Melaniphy, President & CEO at the American Public Transportation Association, recommends a similar approach. He feels that moving Social Media out of the Marketing group and into the Customer Service arena can improve operations. He thinks that a
17 transportation provider will be able to react faster to equipment repairs/replacement efforts with on-the-ground reporting when the dispatch level is tied into their Social Media programs.
Different transportation providers approach staffing differently, but it is important to allocate the right resources to match the needs of your organization. One solution does not fit all. Up-front capital costs of Social Media are minimal since many tools are free, however staffing costs may not be. Be cognizant that having staff manage Social Media is a large job and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Decisions regarding Social Media staffing include whether your organization will:
Allocate or hire dedicated full-time staff Add onto existing staff responsibilities
Hire an outside consultant to support all or part of your Social Media activities
Hire a temporary Social Media strategist and/or consultants to infuse Social Media into your agency
When considering the individuals who will make up your team, consider what Michael Melaniphy told us: “(Social Media) has to be something that someone does - not collateral duty.” Not surprisingly, most transportation providers do not yet have full-time staff exclusively employed to focus on Social Media, mainly due to budget constraints. However, this is not to say that Social Media is a task that can be undertaken on a temporary basis and the task is completed. Social Media warrants continuous attention by staff over an extended period of time, if not a permanent basis. One suggested approach is to hire a consultant to review and set up new processes and develop training on Social Media so that it becomes infused in the
agency. This approach strikes a balance between finding expert resources on setting up and tailoring the Social Media program for an agency, while allowing staff to focus on the overall direction and implementation of the program.
Social Media can be demanding especially if you consider it to be a 24/7 business. Determine your commitment to have staff work beyond traditional work hours, and if you are adding responsibilities onto an existing staff member’s time, it could also translate into overtime hours. What you ultimately decide to do may be driven by what your customers demand, but you can also set customer expectations. For example, if you do not plan to respond to your customers’ questions or update service information in real-time, you can let your customers know in advance what they can expect with respect to the rate or timeliness of your responses.
18 At Gold Coast Transit, Social Media is led by the Marketing Director and is also a shared
responsibility with the planners that report to this individual. As a team, they manage the organization’s Social Media activities in addition to their other work.
At BART, Social Media is a small component of two existing job positions, adding virtually no “extra” costs to the existing budget. They feel that it doesn’t make sense to hire dedicated staff to manage Social Media because the expectation is that those involved in Social Media need to be cross-trained and knowledgeable about the agency.
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority has been doing some Social Media advertising and promotions using an outside contractor, which has proven to be very successful for a small dollar investment. However, they prefer to keep the customer engagement activities within the purview of staff, rather than outside contractors, as they firmly believe it is important for their Social Media presence to be authentically representative of their organization.
The key component of your Social Media resource strategy is to find the right people. Look for employees who are passionate and technically savvy. Also utilize employees who are
knowledgeable about the organization, and possess sound and quick judgment. These
individuals will be the front-runners representing your organization. When they respond to any negative or controversial topics on-line, there will be little chance to retract these statements once they are made. Milo Victoria, CEO at OmniTrans, believes that the real investment in Social Media is in selecting the right people to manage it. He recommends that you look for someone who is specifically focused on Social Media and passionate about it. If it is an add-on responsibility to someone who isn’t comfortable or interested in exploring the possibilities, you will not get a good return on investment.
Similarly, Leah Harnack said that you need to find the right person to handle Social Media and you need to use the application appropriate to your message. Many transportation providers have voiced a challenge with evaluating new tools, and keeping up with technology. Therefore, you should carefully consider having the right technical resources available to maintain your Social Media sites, and to continually evaluate the sites you are using to ensure that your organization is taking advantage of the Social Media platforms which are most appropriate to your specific business needs.
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD), located in a college town and home of the University of Illinois (Big Ten School) saw that they needed to connect with the student
population in the area. As a result they made a decision to have a full-time employee dedicated to Social Media. This person was an existing staff member performing marketing and
communications type work and was selected for her computer savvy, extensive knowledge about Social Media, and high interest level in the subject matter. With the help of an iPad, she
19 provides coverage of their Social Media sites 24 hours/7 days per week. Generally, MTD gets 10-15 posts per day when school is not in session. The number of customer exchanges increases during the peak month, however this has not been an issue so far. The agency has found it necessary to cross train others to support the Social Media program, so that the responsibility does not fall on one individual with little flexibility for time off nor make the program dependent on an individual’s availability.
Most transportation providers we interviewed have one to two individuals who are responsible for their Social Media activities. Hours spent managing Social Media Programs each week vary widely from organization to organization; it ranges anywhere from one to two hours per week to 40-plus. Our survey results showed no correlation between size of the transportation provider, transportation modes or geographic area with the allocation of resources for Social Media programs. Detailed information from our survey is provided in Appendix Four, to provide you with a resource to see what comparable transportation providers, of similar size and service areas, to your organization are doing with Social Media. Since specific costs (in dollars) are not readily available, the overall information it may be used and applied broadly to provide you with a sense of the baseline resource investments that is necessary to support Social Media.
Based on our interview discussions, demographics and the size of the target audience were factors that appear to have significant impacts to the use of Social Media programs. Additional research is required to further analyze this area of interest; however this was not a part of this project.
Before you begin using Social Media, it would be beneficial to have a policy governing your Social Media program. This policy should state how you will communicate, who will be
responsible, and what can and cannot be done through Social Media. However, you should not let the absence of a policy hinder you in your implementation and usage of Social Media tools. A vast majority, 93%, of the transportation providers we surveyed did not have a policy before they began using Social Media.
Policies should acknowledge and educate employees about personal versus professional communications. The policy should clearly state what acceptable practices at the work place are and what is acceptable on workplace spaces. Employee use will evolve and the policies will need to evolve and be updated as technology changes. Likewise, policy or parameters should also be in place for those whom you have entrusted with the responsibility of managing Social Media. Policies need to address the following areas:
20 What sources of Social Media are your priorities?
How will employees know what are acceptable uses of Social Media? Who is the voice of your agency, one or many?
How do you create and manage your content? Who controls the passwords?
How will your acknowledge agency errors & take responsibility?
Let your customers know the rules for participating (e.g. No profanity, etc. – will be removed from the site)
No guarantees – while you will try to ensure data is accurate and up-to-date, conditions sometimes change faster than you can tweet about them. Let your customers know that with disclaimers
The organizations that responded to our survey did not identify any current legal concerns. However, it is important to be aware of some of the following potential issues:
You need to pay special attention that you are not infringing on your customers rights to provide you with information, even if you don’t always like the way they say it.
While there are no current laws requiring you to retain the content of tweets and Facebook posts, keep in mind that Social Media could soon become subject to record keeping and disclosure rules. You need to stay aware of developments in this area and policies will need to be reviewed and revised often.
Based on our survey, we found only a few transportation providers that currently have policies in place to govern Social Media usage. Some organizations are using employee conduct policies to govern their Social Media policies and others restrict access to Social Media sites to all employees. For organizations without adopted Social Media policies, many stated interest and desire in having some sample policies available to them for tailoring and modifying for their agency. During our research we collected copies of current Social Media policies from San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) and MetroLink (attached in Appendix Three). The key policy components of both were to establish a policy goal, employee accountability, guiding principles, and legal issues.
The policy goal should be clearly stated and should match your corporate vision. In addition, it should tell your employees what you intend to get out of Social Media for your agency and how
21 you intend to achieve this goal. RTD states as their policy goal:
“RTD maintains a strong corporate presence online with a corporate website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts. One of RTD’s strategic initiatives is to
communicate with consistency, quality, and accuracy.”
Employee accountability is another major component of any policy. MetroLink states in their policy:
“When you are using Social Media in an employee capacity, you are acting as a
representative of MetroLink. Conduct on Social Media websites should be consistent with MetroLink’s mission and purpose.”
This area is still evolving and over time more agencies will begin adopting policies to govern Social Media.
Don’t miss your connection to customers, whether you are connecting one–on-one via a Facebook campaign or broadcasting real-time scheduling information to a mass audience. Stay abreast of what your customers are saying and create a dialog with them to increase their engagement with transit and get their input on the services you provide. Connecting and engaging with customers makes possible the integration of your transit community with your strategic planning.
Build your brand by outputting innovative and ‘click worthy’ information over your Social Media channels. Your Social Media strategy should encourage creativity among staff and have the resources available to monitor Social Media trends. Maintenance of a Social Media program involves staying ahead of the curve of Social Media use.
We have outlined guidelines in five subject areas as a starting point for defining your Social Media program. The next step is to continue the dialogue with others in the industry. Talk to your peers about their experiences with using Social Media and learn from what others are doing. One of the unique aspects of Social Media is that the users have become the innovators. The pace of application development and the creative use of existing applications exceed the ability of traditional research and print media to stay current.
Social Media use is expected to continue to increase in the future. Additional future trends identified by your transportation provider peers in Social Media include:
An increase in Business to Business branding through the Social Media experience Refinement of Social Media analytics
An increase in the use of mobile devices A decrease in the use of email
22 An effective Social Media Program has clearly defined goals based on demographics, target audience and available resources. Our industry is using Social Media, but the utilization of these tools is only in its infancy. We have a lot of work ahead of us in embedding these new
conversational methods into our individual cultures, but the use of Social Media is not optional, it’s a necessary component of your overall communications program and if you don’t
Table A: Organizations Interviewed
Name Title Organization
Alexander Clifford Executive Director/CEO Metra - Chicago, IL
Justin Augustine CEO RTA - New Orleans, LA
Paul Ballard CEO Nashville MTA, Nashville, TN
Steve Brown General Manager Gold Coast Transit - Oxnard, CA
Kevin Desmond General Manager King County Metro - Seattle, WA
Michael Ford CEO Ann Arbor TA - Ann Arbor, MI
James Gee General Manager TARTA - Toledo, OH
Lloyd Grant Managing Director MCTS - Milwaukee, WI
Leah Harnack Editor Mass Transit Magazine - Fort
John Hendrickson General Manager Waco Transit - Waco, TX
Name Title Organization
David King General Manager Triangle Transit - Durham, NC
David Kutrosky Managing Director Capitol Corridor - Oakland, CA
Neil McFarlane General Manager TriMet - Portland, OR
Michael Melaniphy President & CEO American Public Transportation Association - Washington D.C.
Tim Moore Website Manager BART - San Francisco, CA
Allan Pollack General Manager/CEO Salem –Keizer Transit - Salem, OR
Thomas Prendergast President NYC Transit - New York, NY
Chadwick Reese Executive Director Chatham Area Transit - Savannah, GA
Michael Scanlon Executive Director SamTrans/ Caltrain - San Mateo, CA
Milo Victoria CEO OmniTrans - San Bernardino, CA
William Volk Managing Director Champaign-Urbana MTD - Urbana, IL
Karen Walton General Manager Sioux Area Metro (SAM) - Sioux Falls, SD
Table B: Organizations Surveyed
Name Title Organization
Multimedia Marketing Specialist
Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (The Ride)
Wendy Williams Marketing Manager
Antelope Valley Transit Authority
Melissa Jordan Senior Web Producer Bay Area Rapid Transit
Marketing and Communications Officer
Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority
Betty Wineland Executive Director
Central Arkansas Transit Authority
Hugh A. Mose General Manager
Centre Area Transportation Authority
Amy Snyder Communications Specialist
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
Chadwick Reese Executive Director/CEO
Chatham Area Transit Authority
Art A. Ida Transportation Director Culver CityBus
Morgan Lyons Director, Media Relations Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Shirley A. DeLibero President
DeLibero Transportation Strategies LLC
Elizabeth Presutti General Manager
Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority
New Media and Customer
Relations Coordinator Foothill Transit
Richard Maxwell AVP Marketing
Forth Worth Transportation Authority
Name Title Organization
Alexis Majied Sr. Communications Specialist Hampton Roads Transit
Ann Derby Director of Marketing & Events
INIT, Innovations in Transportation, Inc.
Linda Thielke Public Information Officer King County Metro Transit
David Rzepinski General Manager Marin Transit
Jeffrey Nelson General Manager MetroLINK
Maria Smith Marketing Officer Mountain Line Transit
Emily Kuhnel Marketing Representative North County Transit District
Marmie Edwards VP, Communications Operation Lifesaver, Inc.
Social Media & Communications Specialist
Port Authority of Allegheny County
Edward D. Reiskin Director of Transportation
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority
Marketing and Communications Manager
San Joaquin Regional Transit District
Karen Walton General Manager Sioua Area Metro (SAM)
Jaime Vogt Communications Specialist Sound Transit
Name Title Organization
James Gee General Manager
Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority
Coordinator, Communications and Special Projects
University of Maryland Transportation Services
Public Relations and Marketing
Manager Utah Transit Authority
Lindsay LeGrand Communications Specialist
Williamsburg Area Transit Authority
Appendix Two: Literature Review
Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 99 – Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation, 2012
Routes to New Networks: A Guide to Social Media for the Public Transportation Industry, November 2009, Florida Department of Transportation BD549-53
TRB: Strategic Approaches to Developing a Social Networking Page,
http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/dva/ccc/trbsocialnetworkingguidance.pdf Society for New Communications Research, “Best Practices for Developing a Social Media
2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, “How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Business”. Michael A. Stelzner.
About.Com Guide “Social Media Trends Prediction 2012. Elise Moreau
Inside a Marketing Mind, blog by Gareth Case
FTA: Social Networking in the Transportation Industry, September 8, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJuARta4Qrk
Adopted Public Agency Policies
San Joaquin Regional Transit District Social Media Policy
MetroLINK Social Media Policy