Transit and Social Media

(I originally published this post on August 21st 2011, but then later deleted it on September 7th 2011. Since the original publishing of this post, Ben Franklin Transit has expressed little to no interest in continuing a social media presence.)

What is the best way for a transit agency to connect with its customers?

Sure, advertising always works. Or at least it used to. Nowadays, we live in the era of free wi-fi at Starbucks and DVR’s, where people want what they want, when they want it.

A large number of agencies have started turning to a new method of advertising: Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… you name it, there’s an agency that’s using it.

For some agencies, it’s just a simple presence with a Facebook fan page, regularly updated with news, route changes, and special events. Other agencies really take it to the next level, with a Twitter account that is monitored 24/7, with someone always behind the helm to provide up to the moment updates about temporary reroutes, buses running late, and always answer any questions from riders without delay.

Obviously budget comes into play here, as there is not one agency out there that hasn’t been affected one way or another by the economic downturn. It costs money to have someone maintain a social media presence for the agency, whether it’s a customer service agent that already interacts with customers face-to-face, or a dedicated employee who does nothing but maintain all aspects of the agencies online presence. When it comes time to find ways to save the budget, customer service personnel are often among the first looked at for possible cost cutting.  The question is, where do you draw the line? Do you cut your potential for interaction with your customers to the bare minimum and risk ridership, which in turn would just exacerbate the problem that already existed?

Within the last few days, I took it upon myself to establish a social media presence for Ben Franklin Transit. (Keep in mind that this is the first and probably only time I’ll admit this. After this post, unless you’re a BFT employee, I’ll adamantly deny it.) Trying to keep it simple and straightforward for now, I built a Facebook fan page and Twitter account for BFT. I’m also drawing a lot of inspiration from the success of the social media presence of TransLink (Metro Vancouver, BC), which in my personal opinion is the most successful of all the agencies using social media. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account (or both!), of course I strongly encourage you to like and/or follow the accounts, and bring any tips or suggestions that you may have. I want to make sure to point out that I am not an employee of BFT or any of their subcontractors, so I’m not being paid for this. Though I can’t say that I would hate the idea of BFT hiring me to manage the social media presence for them, if you catch my subtle hint there.

Update (September 2012): Though nothing has been posted on the BFT accounts for nearly a year, interest has been growing recently. I don’t know how or why this interest is happening, but it just adds on to the list of reasons why BFT (and all other transit agencies) need to take social media seriously.

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