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Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation (2022)

Chapter:Chapter 3 - Survey

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26451.
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18 Background The study team developed a survey questionnaire to learn more about the social media engagement of the transit agencies. The survey topics and questions were primarily based on the knowledge of practices learned during the literature review as well as the knowledge and expertise of the study team. Based on the survey responses, this chapter describes the types of social media platforms used by transit agencies and their strategies related to public outreach, goals, and branding. This chapter also includes the social media policies of transit agencies, the scope of information shared using the platforms, the importance and effectiveness of social media for communicating with the target market, barriers that agencies face, and the resources allocated for social media engagement. The survey was developed in Qualtrics, was reviewed by the panel, and was refined to essential topic areas. The final survey is included in Appendix B of this report. Appendix C provides the responses of all survey questions with appropriate tables and figures. This chapter provides a brief overview of the survey analysis. Agencies Surveyed The study team invited agencies to the survey via email. An initial list of transit agencies was compiled, noting each agency’s regional location and relative size or service to create a diverse sample. After consultation with the panel members, the final list (with the inclusion of 75 transit agencies) was developed. The study team acquired 60 survey responses (an 80-percent response rate). Some of the survey responses had too much missing information and were removed from the final survey analysis. A total of 47 complete survey responses (from 46 transit agencies) were used in the final survey data analysis. Appendix A provides a list of partici- pating agencies. Social Media Applications Respondents were asked about the major social media platforms they use and their level of engagement. Most of the agencies reported Facebook (83.0 percent), Twitter (83.0 percent), YouTube (63.0 percent), Instagram (63.0 percent), and LinkedIn (53.2 percent) as their most used social media platforms. Figure  2 shows that agencies in large urban areas allocate more hours to social media activity than the agencies serving smaller urban areas and the agencies serving both rural and urbanized areas. As reported by the survey, 22.2 percent of the agencies in large urban areas dedicate more than 40 hours per week to social media, whereas no agencies serving in small urban areas devote more than 40 hours. C H A P T E R 3 Survey

Survey 19   Content Management The agencies included in this survey used social media for a wide range of purposes. Among those purposes, providing service-related information is the most frequent information shared by the transit agencies because nearly all respondents (91.6 percent) provided this answer. In addition, over 85 percent of the survey respondents reported that agency news and projects, emergency alert and crisis information, agency promotion, feature stories, meeting and event notices, and press releases are also frequently shared through their social media platforms. Agencies tend to match the type of content with the social media platforms they use. For example, 66 percent of the agencies share real-time service alerts though Twitter. For meeting and event notices, feature stories, and agency promotion, Facebook is more preferred by the transit agencies. Both Twitter and Facebook are frequently used by the agencies for service information, emergency alert and crisis information, agency news and projects, press releases, and statements. Most of the agencies prefer sharing service information (24.5 percent) and real-time service information (40.4 percent) several times a day. Meeting and event notices are shared once a day, and emergency alert and crisis information is shared a few times a month by most of the agencies (34.1 percent and 19.2 percent, respectively). The frequency of sharing other information varies from once a week to once a month among different agencies. Marketing and communications staff are responsible for creating and circulating posts on different social media platforms for a majority of agencies. Senior management is also responsible for pro- viding information, especially regarding real-time service information, emergency alerts, crisis information, agency news, projects, and press releases. According to the survey, customer ser- vice staff, administrative staff, and information technology (IT) staff also have the responsibility of regulating social media content. Responses for “other” personnel provided by respondents include operation supervisors, operation staff, transit network supervisors, and interns. Social Media Considerations The survey respondents were asked to review the importance and effectiveness of social media in achieving a series of commonly stated considerations or goals of the agencies; the average ranking of this goal was 3.8. To help compare these goals, a weighted average was calculated for the importance of each goal using a four-point scale (“not important at all” equals 1, and “very important” equals 4). NOTE: Responses are expressed as a percentage of total agencies responding to this question (N = 36). 0% 10% 20% 30% 1-10 11-20 21-30 31-40 > 40 Small-urbanized area (population 50,000–200,000) Large-urbanized area (population over 200,000) Both rural and urbanized areas are served Figure 2. Agency investment in social media (total hours per week by area size of agency).

20 Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation Most of the survey respondents rated “communicate with current and prospective riders” (66 percent) as a “very important” consideration in their agencies’ decision to use social media; the average ranking was 3.8. “Crisis communication” was also considered a “very important” goal according to 57.5 percent of the respondents, which had a 3.7 weighted average score. In contrast, 6.4 percent of the agencies deemed social media to be “not important at all” for “recruit and keep staff” (the weighted average was 2.5). One agency representative commented that promoting ridership is a “very important” social media consideration; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency has stopped promoting ridership. Survey respondents were also asked to rate the effectiveness of social media in achieving these goals. Respondents rated the effectiveness of social media in meeting their stated goals using a four-point scale, from “not effective at all” to “very effective.” The agencies rated social media as “very effective” for “distribut[ing] general information” (the weighted average was 3.4) and “crisis communica- tion” (the weighted average was 3.3). However, survey respondents indicated that these plat- forms are far less effective in “recruit[ing] and keep[ing] staff” (the weighted average was 2) and “increas[ing] ridership” (the weighted average was 2.3); only 2.1 percent reported these goals being effectively achieved through the social media platforms. To further assess the effectiveness of social media, a comparison was made between the per- ceived effectiveness of social media in reaching agency goals and the stated importance of each goal using the weighted averages. Figure 3 compares the importance of a goal and the effective- ness of social media in accomplishing that goal. Communicating with current and prospective riders and crisis communication are the most important goals for agencies. These are also the areas in which social media can be the most effective. However, for other highly rated goals, such as improving customer satisfaction and improving agency image, the gaps between goal and effectiveness are wider. Effectiveness in Reaching Target Riders Survey respondents were also asked which social media platforms they use most for reaching different market segments and how effective they are in this pursuit. According to the respon- dents, Facebook is the most popular platform for reaching all the target segments, including regular riders, occasional riders, students or young adults, seniors, people with disabilities, NOTE: The weighted average was calculated from the responses using a four-point scale where not important/effective at all = 1 and very important/effective = 4. N/A and did not respond responses were excluded. 0 1 2 3 4 Communicate with current and prospective riders Distribute general information Distribute real-time service information Prevent misinformation Crisis communication Public health information Improve customer satisfaction Improve agency image Citizen engagement Recruit and keep staff Increase ridership Promote agency services Weighted Score Importance Effectiveness Figure 3. Comparison of importance of agency goals and effectiveness of social media in achieving goals.

Survey 21   low-income communities, minorities, agency employees, and external stakeholders. Twitter is the second-most-used platform for reaching these target markets. Interestingly, agencies use Facebook (59.6 percent), Twitter (57.4 percent), and Instagram (57.4 percent) almost equally for reaching students and young adults. This demonstrates how important it is for agencies to be resourceful in order to stay compatible with the dynamic social media landscape. Survey respondents were also asked how effective social media platforms were in gaining target markets. Most of the agencies considered social media to be effective in reaching low- income communities, students and young adults, minorities, external stakeholders, and regular riders. The survey did not define market groups such as everyday riders, young adults, and low- income communities, and agencies may have interpreted them differently when responding. Table 9 shows the weighted average of responses regarding the effectiveness of social media in gaining target riders. Common Barriers Survey respondents were asked to rate the commonly identified barriers according to their importance in agencies’ decisions to use social media (see Table 10). A weighted average was calculated for the importance of each barrier using a four-point scale (“not important at all” Target Market Not Effective at All (%) Slightly Effective (%) Effective (%) Very Effective (%) Weighted Average Regular riders 2.1 8.5 38.3 31.9 3.2 External stakeholders 0.0 19.1 40.4 12.8 2.9 Students/young adults 0.0 23.4 44.7 6.4 2.8 Minorities 2.1 23.4 40.4 10.6 2.8 Occasional riders 2.1 34.0 31.9 12.8 2.7 Low-income communities 0.0 27.7 46.8 2.1 2.7 Agency employees 0.0 27.7 29.8 6.4 2.7 People with disabilities 2.1 31.9 36.2 4.3 2.6 Seniors 6.4 42.6 23.4 2.1 2.3 NOTE: To compare the effectiveness of using social media tools to reach different constituencies, an average ranking was developed. A four-point scale was used, where 1 = not effective at all and 4 = very effective. N/A and did not respond were excluded. Responses are expressed as a percentage of total participating agencies (N = 47). Table 9. Effectiveness of social media in gaining target riders. Barriers Not Important at All (%) Slightly Important (%) Important (%) Very Important (%) Weighted Average Prevent misinformation during crisis management 4.3 14.9 29.8 17.0 2.9 Track interactions and feedback 10.6 10.6 27.7 17.0 2.8 Time constraints for posting 17.0 12.8 21.3 21.3 2.6 Harsh or impolite comments 23.4 23.4 17.0 8.5 2.2 User privacy 25.5 21.3 8.5 8.5 2.0 Lack of smartphone usage 29.8 21.3 6.4 4.3 1.8 Requirement of support from IT staff 38.3 21.3 6.4 2.1 1.6 Agency managers do not see the benefits of social media 34.0 14.9 4.3 4.3 1.6 Staff will waste time updating their personal pages 46.8 8.5 4.3 0.0 1.3 NOTE: Responses are expressed as a percentage of total participating agencies (N = 47). To better compare these responses, a weighted average was calculated using a four-point scale where 1 = “not important at all” and 4 = “very important.” “N/A” and “did not respond” responses were excluded. Table 10. Importance of barriers in agency decision to use social media.

22 Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation equals 1 and “very important” equals 4). Of the agencies, 21.3 percent selected “time constraints for posting” as a “very important” barrier, although the barrier “prevent[ing] misinformation during crisis management” had the highest weighted average. Another barrier noted to be “very important” by most of the agencies is “track[ing] interactions and feedback” (the weighted average was 2.8). On the other hand, the following factors did not appear to present barriers to agencies, and most agencies rated them “not important at all” in their decision to use social media: • Requirement of support from IT staff (38.3 percent of agencies and an average rating of 1.6). • Agency managers do not see the benefits of social media (34.0 percent of agencies and an average rating of 1.6). • Lack of smartphone usage (29.8 percent of agencies and an average rating of 1.8). • Harsh or impolite comments (23.4 percent of the agencies and an average rating of 2.2). • Staff will waste time updating their personal pages (46.8 percent of agencies and an average rating of 1.3). • User privacy (25.5 percent of agencies and an average rating of 2). Social Media Policies Many agencies have legal documents for social media policies and how employees con- duct policies. Social media policies provide directions to the employees on how to conduct themselves via the web platforms. These policies address various barriers and concerns of the agencies. Such policies may include guidance regarding employee access to social media sites, the type of accessible sites, account management, acceptable use, the quality and type of social media content, and security guidelines such as password control. Employee conduct policies are acceptable behaviors and social norms that individuals of an agency need to abide by while employed. Most of the participating agencies in this survey have existing policies for employee conduct (42.6 percent), 12.8 percent of agencies have an employee conduct policy in devel- opment, and 25.5 percent said they do not have one. On the other hand, considerably fewer agencies indicated having an existing social media strategy policy (21.3 percent), although 27.7 percent of agencies have one in development. Accessibility for People with Disabilities Only 29.8 percent of agencies reported that their social media websites are completely acces- sible for users with disabilities. Another 40.4 percent said that their sites are partially accessible, and 2.1 percent stated that their agencies are in the process of making the sites accessible (see Figure 4). Figure 4. Responses to Q28 (Can people with disabilities access your agency’s social media sites?). NOTE: Responses are expressed as a percentage of total participating agencies (N = 47). 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Yes, completely accessible Partially accessible No, not accessible In process of making it accessible N/A Did Not Respond

Survey 23   Archiving Social Media Content Among the agencies surveyed, 23.4 percent of the agencies mentioned that they do not archive social media posts; 12.8 percent of the agencies keep records within the platforms directly by preserving the history in relevant sites or feeds. A few agencies use third-party appli- cations such as Archive Social, Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and the like. Some of the agencies that do not usually archive their social media posts mentioned that they make exceptions in cases of abusive or harassing interactions. A few agencies (6.4 percent) assign customer service teams or social media management teams to manage social media records. Metrics for Measuring Social Media Success The agencies were also surveyed about their view of social media metrics. According to the survey, important social media metrics are engagement (63.8 percent), followed by aware- ness (61.7 percent) and customer care success (38.1 percent). Engagement is reflected by the number of likes, comments, shares, and clicks; awareness is reflected by the impressions and reach of the agency’s social media platforms; and response rates and time reflect the success of customer care. Most of the agencies surveyed for this study reported attempting to analyze the effective- ness of their social media success in some manner. Agencies now rely on Facebook Insights (53.2 percent), Twitter Analytics (44.7 percent), Hootsuite (25.5 percent), and Sprout Social (19.2 percent) for analyzing their social media success. Some of the agencies use Google Ana- lytics, Hotjar, Lighthouse, NUVI, and Meltwater. Others measure success based on the fre- quency of response rate, positive media attention, news outlets, engagement reports, and the number of likes, retweets, and so forth. COVID-19 Considerations As reflected in this survey, the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced agency goals, the type of information shared on the social media platforms, and future goals. Moreover, social media platforms have been playing a powerful role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the survey respondents were asked whether they had made any changes regarding information sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the respondents, 95.7 percent replied that they have increased their social media activity during the pandemic. A survey respondent with SouthWest Transit said, “We have concentrated on making sure our customers are aware that SW Transit is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of all of our customers and drivers. Social media is one avenue of communication that we take advantage of when getting information out to our customers when it comes to COVID-19.” Some agencies (23.4 percent) have focused on displaying on-site safety protocols to reassure their passengers regarding transit safety. Through their social media platforms, they have shared photos and videos of disinfection, rear-door boarding, social distancing, seating capacity limi- tations, regulations for provincial mask mandates, restrictions for travelers arriving at the air- port, and other safety improvements. Moreover, shifting social media activity toward raising awareness of COVID-19 has been a marketing boost for many agencies and helped them pro- mote their public image. A respondent with Mountain Line Transit Authority said, “We update our service levels daily on Twitter/Facebook—we also relay any CDC guidelines related to transportation and being in public. It’s become pretty crucial in informing our riders of policy changes. We’ve even gained some followers in the last year we think because of the output of crucial information.”

24 Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation Lessons Learned The social media environment is changing dynamically; it is important for agencies to adapt accordingly. Survey respondents were asked about the lessons they learned over time that may be useful to other agencies in this regard. One employee from the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (the COMET) advised that boundaries and expectations be set for followers. The agency is also incorporating technologies for creating a system where users will know when they can expect a response and how often the sites are monitored. The transit industry anticipates the continued expansion of social media. Therefore, dedi- cated and trained social media personnel are an essential piece of any marketing strategy. There was consensus among the surveyed agencies about increasing communication with their users to achieve their goals. As stated by an employee of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, hiring a professional social media spokesperson with an adequate knowledge base of public relations is critical for agencies. Since funding is a constant challenge for transit systems, some of the respondents advised drawing full support from senior management. Many respondents also suggested keeping up with trends (e.g., memes and graphics), using new technologies like Trapeze TransitMaster to provide real-time service alerts, and promoting transparency. One of the barriers that was recognized as “important” by 17.02 percent of the survey respondents was “harsh or impolite comments.” This issue was addressed by several respondents, and all of them suggested avoiding negativity and heated arguments. Future Needs Survey respondents were asked what their social media goals are for the next 1 to 3 years. Some of the agencies reported increasing followers and engaging with the community through social media as their primary goal. Others emphasized incorporating advanced technical sup- port into their social media platforms, adding staff and resources, making their content more accessible to minority communities, and focusing on post–COVID-19 strategies. Examples include the following: • Start a real-time communication method more focused on riders, possibly through text. • Make it a place to receive real-time updates. • Reach more minority communities. Find ways to reach and influence nonriders. Make content more accessible. • Add staff to actively manage the distribution of service information and to bring customer service representatives to handle complaints directly on social media. • Improve staffing behind the scenes to support real-time service alerts on Twitter and mobile apps. • Hire someone specifically for social media strategizing. • Use tools to rebuild trust/ridership following the COVID-19 pandemic through active community engagement and transparency. • Grow as a community leader and supporter of social equity throughout the region. Some of the survey respondents have also shared valuable suggestions for improving social media interactions in the future. Some suggestions are as follows: • Set a goal or benchmark of responding within a reasonable amount of time. Have other staff help in monitoring after hours and on weekends on a rotating basis. • Speak with riders like humans rather than corporations. • Have different strategies for each platform to tap into what works for each one.

Survey 25   • Set up a Twitter account dedicated to service advisories. That way, people do not have to scroll through multiple service alerts that are not relevant to them to get to announcements, news, and engaging content. The agency can always retweet or quote-tweet a service alert when it is an important one. • Hire a social media coordinator who can devote all of his or her time to strategy. • Post user-generated content such as photos of transit vehicles taken and shared by the public with their permission. This is a great way to generate content, and often the quality of the submitted content is good. Also, it is a great way to engage with social media followers. • Communicate with customers about upcoming service changes or program information and increase community outreach to engage and inform marginalized populations (e.g., people of color, people with disabilities, and seniors). • Expand social media platforms to reach a broader audience. Key Findings This chapter provides a brief discussion of the survey results. The survey questionnaire targeted several key aspects of social media usage from the viewpoint of transit professionals. The general finding is that social media is a handy tool for enabling transit agencies to reach their customer base. Informative and real-time information sharing requires a dedicated workforce, which is not available for smaller agencies. Transit agencies used social media during the COVID-19 pan- demic to inform people about health protocols and vaccine distribution. The Lessons Learned section provides a brief overview of the agencies’ experiences while handling social media, while the Future Needs section provides needs for future investigation on this issue.

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A high percentage of transit agencies believe social media is important for increasing ridership, improving customer satisfaction, and improving agency image.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Synthesis 156: Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation updates 2012's TCRP Synthesis 99: Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation and again explores the use of social media among transit agencies. It documents innovative and effective practices in the United States and Canada.

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