Social media differs from more traditional media types such as newspaper, radio or television by allowing users to generate their own content which they share with other social media users. Content is often either made public, visible to all or to a pre-defined network of other users.
The use of social media sites has grown rapidly. The most highly used social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, Instagram and Pinterest all have millions of regular users. The introduction of mobile internet sites and apps means that users can access information on the move, when they are away from home or work.
Transport operators are increasingly using social media as a way of interacting with their customers. A social media page can be a good way of providing information to a large number of users, offering promotions and engaging with customers. If done well, social media can be a cost effective solution: for instance a traditional telephone support service may get numerous calls asking the same question. Using a social media platform customers can see previous responses and need not ask the same question.
Social media also gives an opportunity for transport operators to work together, for instance promoting multi-modal offers or reporting disruption on linked services, such as a local bus service serving a railway station.
One of the key advantages of a social media is that for a basic service, only a web enable computer and browser is required. Organisations need to create a business account and then can start creating content. For a small organisation, an informal approach may be the most appropriate, where social media content is created when required on the platform. However, for larger organisations expecting to interact with a large numbers of users, a more considered approach is required. Social media authoring tools help allow content to be generated, often in advance to manage the workload required.
If disruption and service information is to be presented on social media, organisations need to consider whether this will be manually entered, which requires human input but may become overwhelming or resource intensive for a large transport network. The alternative is that existing travel information systems are adapted to provide feeds direct to social networks. Also depending on the network size, multiple feeds maybe required to provide the relevant information.
An emerging area is the potential for using social media to crowd source information. Crowd sourcing is where social networks are scanned for users reporting similar events. For instance crowd sourcing could be used to collect on information on traffic congestion. However, the reliability of crowd sourced information needs to be considered. Reliability of information improves as more people report the same issue but this may not provide sufficient information or a detailed enough location for transport management purposes.
Social media platforms provide analytic functions showing information such as the number of users, demographics, user location and participation rates. These analytics can give insight into the types of passengers carried by transport operators but it is important to remember that social media users may not be representative of users as a whole.
Access to social media accounts should be controlled using appropriate password security controls making sure that passwords are changed regularly. Unauthorised access could result in accounts being used to provide non-relevant information or inappropriate remarks which harm the reputation of the organisation.
Practitioners need to develop a social media policy to outline how they will use social media. Social media should be seen as complimentary to other means of communication with customers, such as phone services, internet and email. Although social media has high usage there are still significant numbers of people who do not use these services or prefer other methods of communication.
Topics to consider are:
These considerations will affect the staff resources required. Linked to this is whether staff will be available to respond, whether it will be 24 hours a day / seven days a week or only during operational hours or office hours. It is important to make users aware of this so they know what information to expect and when they can expect a response.
Practitioners should consider:
One option is to use multiple platforms. For example Twitter could be used to provide information on service disruptions, while Facebook or Google Plus are used to collect passenger feedback.
For social media to be effective, passengers need to be made aware of the channels available. These channels need to be advertised on transport vehicles, stops and stations.
Guidelines on tone and style for social media postings are important. Social media posts should be short and to the point, allowing users to decide quickly whether they are relevant to them. More detailed information an be provided over the internet or using other platforms, for instance detailed information on ticketing and alternative services during disruption could be provided on a link. Training may be required for staff.
Passenger complaints that arise on social media are best dealt with "off line" either using private messaging or alternative media. This is also to ensure privacy of both passengers and operator staff. Linked to this there should be a clear moderation policy on social media, so that offensive or inappropriate comments are removed.