There are many electronic media for transit agencies to communicate information, including email lists, text messaging systems, social media, websites and mobile apps. How do transit agencies pick the media that is best, and assemble a coherent strategy and toolbox?
Technology choices are not easy because there can be so much to consider. If we focus on the goals technology needs to serve, rather than become distracted by features and what’s new or trendy, decisions are easier and we will get better outcomes. So, I suggest transit agencies frame their discussion of communication technology in terms of their goals.
Many of Trillium’s clients have requested information and recommendations about social media. I’ve distilled my thoughts and recommendations into a report for small agencies, “Connecting with customers and the community: Social media and other communication for transit agencies”.
Here is an excerpt from the report:
There are many tools available. The best way of choosing technologies and implementing communications tactics is to think about communication strategies and priorities in a broad sense. After prioritizing the most important goals it is possible to identify technologies, strategies, and tactics to achieve these goals. Finally, features and cost (in terms of direct costs and agency staff time) can be considered with regard to available tactics and technologies.
Below is a suggested priority order of goals for providing information to passengers, and marketing transit services. In general, it would be a case of “putting the cart before the horse” to pursue later goals before the preceding goals are accomplished. The goals are arranged in an order where the most crucial goals, pertaining to the ease with which customers will understand and use the service, are listed first.
- Provide essential service information: Schedules, maps and fares that are clear and easy-to-understand, online and in print
Paper materials, website
- Provide tools that automate trip planning, and simplify using the service: Additional systems and features that make the service easier for customers to understand and use.
Phone-based call center, online trip planner such as Google Maps or OpenTripPlanner
- Provide supplemental service information that enhances the experience of using the service:
- Real-time arrival information
- Alerts and service exception information
- Real-time arrival system accessed through via phone (voice), text messages, mobile apps or web.
- Email lists, text alerts
- Create broad partnerships and conduct marketing, outreach, and community engagement: Reach new customers through traditional marketing channels and through partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Maintain relationships to open the door to productive partnership opportunities.
Website, social media networks, email lists. Note that much of this is accomplished offline, and through personal connections that are maintained across many communication mediums.
- Personalized marketing, outreach, and engagement: Engage with current and potential customers directly through personalized marketing, whether in-person, through mailed media, or online.
Direct mail, text message systems, email, mobile apps, social media
In many cases (but not in every case), I believe that investment in social media may be a misplaced investment for serving this goals. Another excerpt from the report:
Disseminating service updates and information is not the most appropriate way of using social media. As social media, the communication medium is designed around two-way interaction, not one-way information broadcasts. Not all online customers use social media networks. Email, however, is a medium to which almost all online customers have access, and which they understand. Also, many customers have mobile phones and can receive text messages.
While it can and does offer value for participating organizations, social media is frequently over-hyped — and this opinion is that of an urban, tech-savvy, 20-something, probably representing a core demographic of social media users. It is wise to approach marketing and technology fads with healthy skepticism, even while staying open to their potential value. While it does offer potential as a communications tool, there are much more important communication media for small transit agencies with limited resources to focus on. A transit agency like BART has greater staff resources to dedicate to utilizing social media, has a greater potential audience, and this audience tend to be more engaged online. Smaller agencies may not have as much to gain from using social media.
The full report is available at: http://bit.ly/transit-communication