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Is social media a boon or a pain for transport providers?

Lucy Whitehead of TfL spoke at Hootsuite’s premier Connect event in London.

For those not as London-centric as I, TfL is Transport for London, and it controls pretty much all transport in London (funnily enough).

In fact, Lucy said that the only way TfL couldn’t impact on a journey across the English capital is if it was undertaken by helicopter, roof to roof.

The theme of Lucy’s talk was the size of the task (and opportunity) for TfL on social media, and how it uses the various platforms to try to inspire a ‘bit more love’ in, let’s be honest, some easily disgruntled commuters.

Let’s look at some of the key points. And yes, we will get to the toilet escapology in due course!

Numbers

Lucy disclosed some figures for Londoners on social media and they surprised me. 74% of Londoners are on Facebook and 40% are on Twitter.

This has increased quickly in the last 18 months for both platforms. In fact, Twitter usage in the capital was at 17% around the beginning of 2013.

We can add to this picture the smartphones used by 64% of Londoners.

With 24m journeys across the TfL network every single day, a quick calculation tells me that if everybody with a smartphone and a social profile went online to leave feedback after each of their journeys, TfL would have to deal with 11.4m posts a day.

I’ve made a few presumptions about overlap or otherwise of Facebook, Twitter and smartphone users. But anyway, the point is that there’s plenty of work to do.

Thank the heavens that we aren’t, as yet, quite such an opinionated nation. TfL has in fact received around 1.5m social media posts to date, since it started using social.

TfL runs 26 Twitter feeds (these include travel alerts, traffic news, Tube line accounts, comms and PR) and two Facebook pages.

Objectives

Social’s broad remit at TfL was summed up in a slide by Lucy, that I’ve reproduced below. It’s a hub and spoke style structure with social media teams working across a range of departments.

tfl structure social media

TfL’s social media objectives: 

  • Show we care and are listening.
  • Cost savings and efficiencies.
  • Make it as easy to do business with us as possible.
  • Personalised service. 

A lot of TfL’s activity is temporal, for example increasing awareness of getting home safely by warning of last tube times and making people aware of when they may have to think about booking a cab.

TfL’s desired outcomes: 

  • Cost efficiencies.
  • Humanising TfL.
  • Real-time customer feedback.
  • Better customer service.
  • Improve reputation.
  • Always learning about the customer. 

Examples

Unexpected bonuses of social media include the unlikely story of a customer stuck in an station toilet. Their tweet to TfL resulted in their discovery and escape.

toilet escape tfl and social media

Research at TfL has revealed that 74% of its Twitter followers had a better impression of TfL after following an account.

One of the more eccentric outcomes that wouldn’t have been possible from any other communication channel was the change in volume on the ‘bing bong’ on the DLR trains. A customer sat close to the speaker commented that the noise was piercing at this range. TfL consequently adjusted the volume.

tannoy

Crisis response

Incidents are now often reported first from the crowd.

January 2014 provided an example. Flooding at Victoria station occurred. It turned out to be concrete, after a contractor error.

TfL were upfront and honest about the whole thing, posting a pic of the concrete. Commuters were appreciative of the information presented upfront and straight. There were 1,245 mentions of @victorialine in 24 hours.

87% of the mentions were positive when analysed with Hootsuite’s good sentiment tool.

Many users chimed in with some decent puns, such as ‘mortar follow’ and ‘concrete effort’.

That’s just a quick look at TfL on social media with some salient figures and examples. For more, check out previous Econsultancy blog posts on TfL

Ben Davis

Published 9 June, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

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rudyard

How I wish the First Capital Connect Bedford line had a fraction of this strategy - they are dreadful - except of course Crazy James at StAlbans - a one-man social network like button.

over 2 years ago

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