rapidly growing influence in societies all over the world means that
transport operators should ignore it at their peril, "Wild Wild West of marketing" though it might be. Facebook now
has over 1 billion worldwide subscribers, while Twitter has 200
million active users. A vast number of these "likers" and "tweeters"
also use public transport which inevitably means they are instantly
commenting on the services they use, good or bad.
"Social media does not exclude anyone," Mr Ciaran Rogan, marketing executive for Northern Ireland's Translink, told the International Public Transport Association (UITP) social media workshop in Mechelen on March 7. "You are on it whether you want to be or not."
Indeed in many cities where operators have yet to embrace social media, passengers have taken it upon themselves to set up their own pages dedicated to reporting performance. When Vienna's publically- owned transport operator, Wiener Linien, was embarking on its social media strategy, Ms Claudia Riegler, Wiener I .inien's content manager for social media, said that she found 68 pages and teeds dedicated to its activities which were set up by so-called "co- creators."
"One even used the official logo," she says. "This had the potential to leave a bad impression." It was a similar story in Dresden where Mr Jan Bleis, head of marketing and traffic planning at Dresden Public Transport (DVB), reported that his company contacted Twitter and actually took over an account that had been posing under DVB's identity.
Losing control of the message is clearly a dangerous proposition for operators; it is therefore no longer a case of whether an operator starts to use social media, but when.
As is often the case when reacting to new trends, the railway industry has been relatively slow to pick up social media and explore the full advantages that it could provide. Many operators seem to have deferred engaging with some platforms through fear of doing a bad job or the cost of maintaining a responsive online presence.
However, Rogan believes that the more you put in, the more you will get out in terms of improving an operator's reputation and ultimately the quality of service provided to passengers. He believes that operators should "treat it as an opportunity" and not shy away from dedicating resources to social media.
"It shouldn't be a space for v/ IuL we have not done. Hit somewhere where you are able to say what you will do," Rogan says.
He added that with Twitter and Facebook now driving the news agenda with photographs and video of news events appearing on the platform in real-time, well before media outlets are able to pick up and disect them, transport operators have to equip themselves to respond quickly to these events. He says that Facebook in particular has been useful for Translink to state its official position on an issue before it gets out of hand, recalling its response to a recent picture of a rioter in Belfast who was wearing a Translink uniform. Rogan said that by responding to the incident immediately, Translink was able to quell negative reaction to a potentially damaging story.
He also recalled recent heavy snowfall in Belfast which had a huge impact on train and bus services during the morning commute, and the way in which social media helped to mitigate its impact. "I
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