The social media challenges facing most government agencies are rather unique. Are accounts on all major social networks needed or just on those that matter to that particular agency’s customers? Should their accounts attempt to be entertaining enough to grab people’s attention while being informative enough to be of daily use?
In 2012, a survey tracked that 94% of public transit agencies used social media but only 28% were guided by some form of social media strategy. This has rapidly evolved since. Agencies have seen their online roles evolve from mere providers of information to public relations, customer engagement and branding.
The agencies below each embody one or more areas of social media interaction, which make them must-follows, both for their local customers and other agencies.
Admitting weakness is no bad thing. Too many companies seek to make their social media a land of perfection, where nothing ever goes wrong and no customers are ever disgruntled. For public transit agencies, this is misleading and unrealistic. Customers will turn to Facebook and Twitter for delays, accidents and other problems.
In 2016, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) grabbed headlines when its Twitter account engaged realistically with passengers tired of constant delays. Managed by Taylor Huckaby, BART’s Twitter admitted flaws in its infrastructure and lack of expenditure.
This sparked a firestorm in the press, both as to whether BART’s answers were true and whether this was a good idea for other agencies to copy. In an interview with The Verge, Huckaby said that “The standard, say-nothing stance from government comes from a very deep seeded risk aversion. They don’t want to put any tone or voice or personal response. There’s just a lot of institutional reservedness from government…so for a government agency to reach out and talk to people, it was definitely a fireside chat kind of moment.”
While Huckaby has since moved on to new pastures, the SFBART Twitter account has sought to remain an accessible, engaging sphere in which customers can be honest and expect honesty in return.
A successful social media strategy is not about leading from the front. Coming up with engaging multimedia content is all well and good but for most passengers, following public transit agencies on social media comes down to one thing. Do they care?
For the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), its strategy is all about answering that query with a resounding Yes. On first glance, its Twitter page may seem normal, packed with information about delays and scheduled repairs along its infrastructure. However, scratch below the surface and you will find that it spends much of its time engaging with specific questions and reports and trying to fix them all.
Such a strategy may seem easy to do but it requires focus and commitment. This means social media responsibilities are not being offloaded to the latest intern. UTA staff are trained in how to handle these queries, how to redirect them for a quick resolution, or how to take decisions on the fly.
The name of MARTA’s Instagram account immediately sets the note, Marta Explorer. The city of Atlanta, one of the most diverse in America, has understood that one of the beauties of public transit is the infinite beauty of its travelers.
Through the lens of photographer Adam Shumaker, MARTA shows the people, architecture and sights of Atlanta in a whole new light. Sports fans, musicians, delivery staff, the city seems to come alive through this strategy. The trains and buses of MARTA appear prominently throughout but in such a way as to become a natural, organic part of the city.
This is an effective promotion campaign whilst abandoning the more corporate, info-driven approach most agencies seem to take. This visual approach to rapid transit has become increasingly commonplace with other areas such as Los Angeles, North Carolina, and Washington DC using Instagram to charm potential visitors while promoting public transportation options.
The options above reflect clearly defined and different ways in which public transit agencies can interact successfully with passengers and residents. Each highlights the most important elements of any social media campaign: a clear vision and plan, commitment and consistency.