National Academies Press: OpenBook

Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation (2022)

Chapter:Chapter 5 - Conclusions

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Page 44
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Conclusions." 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.
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Conclusions." 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.
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Conclusions." 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.
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Conclusions." 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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44 This report is a combination of a literature review of social media in public transportation, a survey of selected transit agencies, and detailed case examples in the United States and Canada. This synthesis contributed to knowledge by exploring the social media strategies adopted by transit agencies and identified important practices for the agencies based on existing literature, newly collected survey data, and case examples conducted. The study also shed light on the barriers and challenges faced by the transit agencies while maintaining social media platforms. The study showed the perceived benefits of strategic resource allocation, applying various social media tools to improve public outreach and engagement, and branding and connecting with other organizations to improve public image. The literature review in Chapter 2 reveals interesting findings guided by sentiment analysis on rider satisfaction, transparency, user habits, and demographics. The results of the literature review highlight the importance of analyzing the influence of social media on the transportation business, measuring the effectiveness of existing strategies, collecting data to tailor a campaign that obtains the interest of diverse riders, and communicating transparently with the current and prospective riders through social media. The review demonstrates the need to link the trans- portation sector with other sectors to identify key issues of concern and rectify them. The review also provides a discussion of the tools for providing information and collecting feedback from riders, as well as an understanding of the primary challenges and benefits of such initiatives. Finally, there is a review of studies that have surveyed transit agencies and presented the culture in practice, policy requirements, and overall suggestions. Chapter 3 includes final results and discussion on 47 complete survey responses from transit agencies known to use one or more social media platforms. The survey explored relevant queries regarding the type of social media platforms used by the agencies, the kind of content shared by them, the frequency of posting, resources allocated for managing these platforms, the impor- tance and effectiveness of social media in achieving agency goals, target riders, employee con- duct policy, social media policy, challenges, barriers, and accessibility. Seven case examples were developed based on the survey results. Case example findings discussed in Chapter 4 give further details about social media use, agency considerations, policies, prime stakeholders, notable practices, challenges, barriers, lessons learned, and future goals. This chapter summarizes information from across the survey and case examples with respect to major findings, barriers and challenges, and important practices in social media networking of the transit agencies. The chapter concludes with a summary of identified gaps in knowledge and further study needs in the topic area. C H A P T E R 5 Conclusions

Conclusions 45   Key Findings To ensure the optimum use of social media for improving riders’ experience, agencies follow certain rules about what, when, and how with respect to sharing information. These agencies follow certain processes of marketing, management, planning, tools, resources, outreach, agree- ments, and coordination. Some of the common elements and other informative key findings are as follows: • A majority of the agencies rely on Twitter and Facebook accounts for connecting with their followers and current and prospective riders. Most of the surveyed agencies use Facebook to reach their diverse audiences, and the agencies consider these platforms to be effective in reaching those target audiences. • Nearly all of these agencies assign marketing staff to manage social media content. Plausibly, coordinating social media with marketing and communications plans, a strategy adopted by 63.0 percent of the respondent agencies, is considered the best practice. • A large proportion of the information shared by the agencies is service-related information. In fact, real-time service information is the most frequently shared information via social media (several times a day). Some agencies have found it useful to engage in occasional inter- active sessions, be it online surveys, polls, or Twitter Town Halls. • Urban agencies allocate more resources for managing social media than rural agencies do. • A high percentage of the surveyed agencies believe social media is important for increasing ridership, improving customer satisfaction, and improving agency image. However, there is a large gap between these expectations and reality because the actual effectiveness of social platforms in achieving these goals is comparatively low, according to the survey. Therefore, it is critical for the agencies to emphasize the social media demographics for targeting audi- ences. For example, the survey results suggest that most of the agencies use Facebook to reach their audiences. The popularity of Facebook among different age groups varies widely. This explains the gap and demands a timely update on how agencies use social media. Challenges and Barriers Several challenges to improving user satisfaction and serving the best interest of the audi- ences or followers were raised through the survey responses and case examples. Key challenges cited by survey respondents include preventing misinformation during crisis management, tracking interactions and feedback, and dealing with time constraints for posting. Some of the key barriers and challenges are as follows: • The literature review shows that real-time information sharing is one of the principal reasons for which transit agencies use social media, and the main challenge was the lack of suf- ficient means to provide the necessary information. With the advent of technologies and the availability of smartphones, another alarming challenge has emerged: the rapid spread of misinformation through social media. Most of the surveyed agencies see this as a major challenge. • The literature review has echoed this concern, and industry analysts predicted that social media would become subject to archiving and disclosure rules. Agencies responding to this study’s survey reported that it is rather difficult for them to track interactions and feedback. Only one-third (36 percent) of the surveyed agencies use third-party services like Archive Social, Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and so forth, for archiving social media interactions. A few agencies (4.3 percent) only archive abusive content, and another 12 percent keep histories of interactions within the platforms. Almost 23 percent of the agencies do not have any procedure for archiving social media interactions, and about 30 percent did not respond to

46 Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation this question. Most of the agencies also stated that the lack of resources, funding, and staff might contribute to this barrier. • Many agencies expressed concerns regarding time constraints for posting. When the social media feed is not delivered in real time, it impacts the relevance and timeliness of the informa- tion posted. Audiences naturally lose interest when there is much delay in reciprocating their comments, feedback, complaints, and queries. • Several of the survey respondents viewed online criticism as a “very important barrier.” However, a few respondents said that when agency employees themselves post negative comments, it may have serious repercussions and can harm the brand image of the agency. Lessons Learned 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: • Create a designated social media manager and spokesperson to make it easier for the agencies to communicate social media engagements and promote effectiveness in achieving company goals. It is important to hire trained personnel with a strong public relations background and good writing skills. Having a designated position also encourages responsibility for sharing effective information. • Focus on time management and respond promptly to serve the audience. It is also important for the image of the agency. For example, the COMET emphasizes setting a goal or bench- mark of responding within a reasonable amount of time, having other staff help in monitoring after hours and on weekends on a rotating basis. • Communicate proactively about the upcoming services, making social media sites accessible to marginalized populations (e.g., people with disabilities), and expand the agency’s outreach to broader audiences. • Focus on comments and complaints to take necessary steps to resolve any issue for building trust and relationships with riders. Many agencies insisted on transparency in this regard. • Apply advanced tools to provide real-time service alerts, set up dedicated service advisories, and integrate livestream and video options into social media handles to improve user experi- ence. For example, Halifax Transit uses Trapeze TransitMaster for providing real-time service alerts via Twitter. • Use social media for a variety of purposes, such as analyzing mobility patterns, detecting traffic incidents, and determining public opinion. The idea of using these platforms to share content specific to their best functions would be useful to put into practice. Further Needs Effective social media usage is critical for any transit agency. According to the literature review, having a social media policy is important for the agencies. In this study’s survey, only 21.3 percent of the agencies had an existing social media policy. Previously, most of the agencies would consider the basic engagements such as a number of likes, comments, shares, clicks, response rate, response time, and reach as important parameters to measure the effectiveness of their social media activities. The scenario has changed now, and many agencies rely on Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Hootsuite, and Sprout for analyzing social media metrics. Also, there are some available open-source tools such as Twint (, which can be used to extract historical tweets. For example, the study team used this tool to collect all historical tweets (until June 2, 2021) of the seven case example transit agencies (more

Conclusions 47   details on the metrics can be found in Appendix D). Usage of these open-source platforms can be helpful in extracting real-time social media metrics. Additional study can possibly provide better performance indicator tools for estimating costs and benefits. More study is also needed to fight against misinformation in social media. Furthermore, additional study is needed to address how to engage with marginalized communities or people with disabilities. For transit agencies, limited funding and resources continue to be a challenge. The case examples and survey results support the need for sufficient funding and staff. The literature review identi- fies several plans and suggestions to cope with this issue. These suggestions could be added to and implemented by transit agencies and regional authorities searching for solutions to limited funding and resources. Additionally, research is needed to address how the transit agencies can engage with marginalized people and people with disabilities via social media.

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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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