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1Â Â The 21st century has witnessed the birth of a new mode of communication among people around the world: social media. Social media includes many different web-based applica- tions, available on desktops, laptops, smartphones, and so forth, that allow users to interact with one another via the Internet. Some social media examples include social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram), media-sharing sites (e.g., Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Vimeo, and Twitch), and professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn). Social networking sites are online platforms where users build social networks or social relation- ships with each other, and share similar personal or career interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections. Media-sharing sites enable users to store and share their multi- media files (e.g., photos, videos, and music) with others. Professional networking sites are used to establish and maintain professional contacts. Individuals can gain opportunities for career networking and accessing resources by using these professional platforms. The lives of many people worldwide have been impacted by social media because it provides them with a platform to reach many people at once with little time and effort. The general publicâs increased ability to access and afford the Internet has also created a surge in social media activity. People use social media to access information, express their opinions, participate in surveys, and share information. Transit agencies have begun to use these social networking tools, and their purpose for use typically falls into the following five categories: â¢ Timely updates and crisis information: using media to share real-time service infor- mation and advisories with the public. â¢ Public education and awareness: using social media to provide the public with infor- mation about services, fares, updates on ongoing and future projects, and special service-related information. â¢ Public engagement: using aspects of social media to engage with the public based on their feedback and sentiment via social media analysis. â¢ Transit promotion: using social media as a means of promoting transit services and increasing ridership. â¢ Support of and influence on organizational goals: collecting data from social media to advocate for organizational goals and regulate them as well. The synthesis study for Transit Cooperative Research Program Project J-07, Topic SB-33: Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation, explores the use of social media among transit agencies and documents successful practices in the United States and Canada. Infor- mation was gathered through a literature review, an online survey, and several case examples. The study was conducted in three phases. First, a literature review of existing research on social media use by transit agencies was conducted. Then, an online survey was designed and conducted by targeting transit agencies with different services and spatial locations. S U M M A R Y Uses of Social Media inÂ PublicÂ Transportation
2 Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation The survey questionnaire was designed to learn how the agencies use social media to share information, raise public awareness and impart education, improve public engagement, promote transit agencies, and influence organizational goals during normal and crisis conditions. Following the survey, the study team selected seven agencies for case examples (six U.S. agencies and one Canadian agency) with unique practices based on the survey responses. As the field of social media has been drastically changing in recent years, many advanced studies have been conducted. The literature search was limited to the five key categories discussed. The literature review found that transit agencies are driven by motivations to use social media to reach out to customers effectively and directly. The literature review is divided into several sections to help readers understand different scopes of social media usage by transit agencies. A total of 75 transit service providers in the United States and Canada were invited to participate in the online survey. Only transit organizations known to use one or more social media platforms were asked to participate. The study team acquired 60 survey responses (an 80-percent response rate). Some of the survey responses were removed from the final survey analysis because they had missing or inadequate information. A total of 47 complete survey responses (from 46 transit agencies; both a social media strategist and a marketing manager from the same agency participated in the survey) were used in the final survey data analysis. Based on the survey results, seven case examples were developed to describe innovative and successful practices in more detail. The agencies that participated in the case example study were â¢ Bay Area Rapid Transit District in San Francisco, CA â¢ Miami-Dade Transit in Miami, FL â¢ CyRide in Ames, IA â¢ Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky in Fort Wright, KY â¢ Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority in Columbia, SC â¢ Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX â¢ Halifax Transit in Halifax, Canada Several barriers to improving user satisfaction and serving the best interest of audiences or followers were raised through the survey responses and case examples. Key challenges cited by survey respondents included preventing misinformation during crisis manage- ment, tracking interactions and feedback, and facing time constraints for posting. A brief description of frequent barriers and challenges follows: â¢ As also noted in the literature, providing information is one of the principal reasons transit agencies use social media, and the main challenge was the lack of sufficient means to provide the necessary information. With the advent of technologies and the avail- ability of smartphones, another alarming challenge has emergedâthe rapid spread of misinformation through social media. Most of the surveyed agencies see this as a major challenge. â¢ Professional opinions about the future of social media differ, but the consensus is that the presence of interactive media is here to stay. Transit agencies are challenged to keep up with this dynamic environment and adapt accordingly. â¢ Internet access for people with disabilities has improved greatly in the past few years, but social media platforms are still behind in terms of accessibility. While providing valuable information, the heavy use of images, videos, and user-generated content has created many accessibility challenges that need to be tackled. â¢ Agencies reported that it is difficult for them to track interactions and feedback. Only one-third of the surveyed agencies use third-party services like Archive Social, Sprout
Summary 3Â Â Social, Hootsuite, and so forth, for archiving social media interactions. A few agencies only archive abusive content, and others keep histories of all interactions within the platforms. Several participating agencies do not have any procedure for archiving social media interactions, and about one-third of the agencies did not respond to this question. Most of the agencies also stated that the lack of resources, funding, and staff might con- tribute to this barrier. â¢ Many agencies expressed concern regarding time constraints for posting. â¢ Several of the survey respondents viewed online criticism as a âvery important barrier.â â¢ The line between personal and professional lives is continually blurring. Therefore, taking action to address employee social media use is a matter of concern for public- and private- sector agencies. The participating agencies in the case examples provided a number of lessons learned for ensuring better service through social media. Some good practices and lessons include the following: â¢ Create a designated social media manager and spokesperson. Thus, it will be easier to communicate social media engagements and effectively achieve company goals. â¢ Focus on time management and respond promptly while serving the audience. These aspects are important for the image of the agency. â¢ Communicate proactively about upcoming services to make social media sites accessible to marginalized populations (e.g., people with disabilities) and to expand the agencyâs outreach to broader audiences. â¢ Focus on comments and complaints to take necessary steps to resolve any issue for building trust and relationships with riders. â¢ Apply advanced tools to provide real-time service alerts, set up dedicated service advi- sories, and integrate livestream and video options into social media handles to improve user experience. â¢ Avoid negativity and heated arguments on official social media pages. This synthesis report acknowledges the following gaps in knowledge or areas for addi- tional study: â¢ Social media policy: Although industry professionals believe that having a social media strategy policy is essential, only a limited number of transit agencies in this study indi- cated having a policy in place. Additional study could aim to identify aspects of social media policies that are relevant to public transit agencies. â¢ Prevention of misinformation: Misinformation in social media is a key hurdle. Transit agencies do not have sufficient tools or staffing to handle misinformation, and more advanced tools and research are needed to prevent it. â¢ Social media metrics: A majority of the surveyed agencies measured social media effec- tiveness via built-in metrics (e.g., the number of followers) and via third-party applica- tions (e.g., Google Analytics). These metrics can offer a good activity overview but do not provide all of the information that agencies may require to fully analyze their social media success. Thus, additional study is needed for evaluating the use of social media in disseminating service information and increasing ridership. For example, experimental trials designed for testing different strategies to increase outreach on social media by comparing paid or boosted content with nonpaid posts can provide insight into the need for exploring different approaches. â¢ Integration with other agency activities: Only a few participating agencies reported integrating social media with traveler and citizen information services, despite the growth of mobile applications. Further study could identify the potential for better coordinating social media with other platforms for providing agency information.