Recap of Transportation Camp session “Social Media is B.S.”

Recap of Social Media is B.S.

This year at Transportation Camp DC, I hosted a session called "Social Media is B.S." I am late in posting some post-session reflections, but still wanted to share.

Storified by Aaron Antrim· Tue, Apr 09 2013 22:18:09

TransportationCamp is an unconference about the intersections of technology (high- and low-tech) and transportation.  It is attended by planners, consultants, hackers, citizens, and others.  The sessions are participant-led, so it’s a unique opportunity to interact, share ideas, and make things happen in an informal and energy-filled space.
#transpo camp in full swing in DC. Posting session ideas to walls, then they will be selected and scheduled pic.twitter.com/IrAjgGdVTRB
I have been working to understand the benefits of social media for public transportation, and I had begun to feel they were oversold, so I hosted a session called “Social Media is B.S.” to discuss its benefits, opportunities, and limitations.  The title was intentionally provocative to get people in the session and encourage disagreement and discussion.  I (non-creatively) borrowed the title from the book by B.J. Mendelson (@BJMendelson).
Davecopeland
Social Media Is Bullshit: A Detailed Look At The Myth And Hype Of Social MediaB.J. Mendelson’s first book, Social Media Is Bullshit, is a tell all about the myth and hype created by the social media industry, and th…
I really want to thank everyone who participated in the session.  A few included of these people included Susan Bregman @OakSquareSusan, who maintains the excellent thetransitwire.com, Peter Miller of Ito World, Meghan Makoid (@mamakoid), Aimee Custis (@AimeeCustis), Chris (@FixWMATA), Tyler Godsey, and others.

This was a great opportunity to get a group of people in the room with different perspectives.  If I did this again, I would probably choose a different approach because it was difficult and awkward for me to at once try to facilitate in a way that invited disagreement and differing perspectives, while still advocate for my own ideas.  It would make sense to appoint someone as neutral facilitator.
If you’ve seen some of my previous posts on social media in context of a larger information and marketing strategy in public transit (“Connecting with customers and the community” 21-October-2012 and “Getting real about the utility of social media for public transit” 8-April-2013), the table below will look familiar.  We started with an incomplete version of this chart, and proceeded with a discussion about tools and tactics available for each of the goals.  Some people in the session disagreed with use of the label “hierarchy” for the table, saying that no one goal is more important and excludes others.  However, I stand by this label: essential service information (where services can transport you, what hours you can travel) is fundamental and deserves close attention before other information programs are implemented.
Whiteboard: Hierarchy of transit communication – Social Media is B.S. at #Transpo pic.twitter.com/ZC5MjfufpIAaron Antrim
In our discussion, we had a great brainstorm about how to utilize some of the opportunities of social media:
Whiteboard: social media utility in public transit marketing and customer service – Social Media is B.S. at #Transpo pic.twitter.com/ZGh3dmfih4Aaron Antrim
One perspective that emerged (which I share) is that social media is just one more electronic communication mode (like email), though it is a bit more complex.  We can’t use social media to take care of all our communication needs.
Are we putting all of our eggs in one communication basket with social media, says @aimeecustis #TranspoMeghan Makoid
Every single thing that you say on social media needs to be said clearer, better and somewhere else as well, says @aimeecustis #transpoMeghan Makoid
One session participant said he likes to access service disruption information for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) via Twitter (@wmata).  I responded to say that, while it’s great disruption information is somewhere, this seemed far from an ideal mode of access.  Rather, I would personally prefer an app that helps me zero in on exceptions relevant to my trip (using gtfs-realtime data).  But after the session, Susan Bregman smartly pointed out that people have unique preferences for how they want to find and access information.  My preferences may not those of someone else.

In the end, I offered that social media is just one communication tool in a whole toolbox, and that printed information, email, websites, and open data are more broadly used and accessed, whereas social media is a niche communication tool.  At least one person disagreed…
@trilliumtransit think again MT Social media may be less necessary than we think, says @trilliumtransit. It is a niche comm tool. #Transpo”J: Pete’s Grrl
All in all, this was a great opportunity for me to refine my own thinking.  I hope it was a useful exercise for others as well.  Big thank you to everyone who participated.  I am looking forward to future sessions at future Transportation Camps and transit conferences about information, marketing and customer service, and that these sessions will incite disagreement, debate, and critical thought.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.