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The rise of social media

A supplement from

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In association with

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This is just the beginning Social media has presented the passenger transport sector with a conundrum. It presents an exciting new opportunity to develop relationships with existing and potential customers, and provide travellers with useful information whilst they are Robert Jack on the move. However, with multiple channels @passtrans and millions of customers to engage with, it also presents a considerable challenge in terms of resourcing. This supplement examines best practice in the sphere of social media from a range of organisations. The Social Brands 100 (see pages 4-5) has shown us who is leading the way, and some of these leaders are featured in this publication. They range from National Rail Enquiries (pages 6-7), with its national remit, to local bus company Cardiff Bus (page 12). There is also helpful advice from Passenger Focus about what passengers want (pages 14-15). One thing is clear - social media is not a passing fad. What we have seen so far is just the beginning of a phenomenon that will soon shape our world. Passenger Transport will return to this subject soon, so let us know how your organisation is responding to this change.

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Social media plays an essential role for passenger transport brands that want to engage with customers, says Maeve O’Sullivan

National Rail Enquiries has used Twitter to respond swiftly and helpfully to requests for information

Facebook and Twitter are now key communication channels at Arriva’s bus businesses in the North East and Yorkshire







South West Trains was slow to embrace social media but the company has been quick to catch up

Cardiff Bus has embraced social media channels and was ranked at number 45 in this year’s authoritative Social Brands 100 list

Passengers don’t want a ‘mate-like’ tone from transport operators. They want information delivered in a direct and professional way

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Go-Ahead’s Go North East subsidiary now has 48,000 fans on Facebook

Go-Ahead firms lead way on social media

Go-Ahead Group subsidiary companies like London Midland and Go North East have pioneered use of new communication tools Go-Ahead Group and its subsidiary companies have pioneered the application of social media in the passenger transport sector, using Twitter and Facebook to keep passengers updated with service-running information and latest product and ticket offers. Go-Ahead’s target is to achieve 250,000 social followers across its businesses by the end of next June. The London Midland Twitter feed @LondonMidland has led the rail industry in transforming the way information is delivered to passengers during disruption, with high profile events including the harsh winter of 2010, a fire on board a train at Leighton Buzzard last year, and a number of incidents affecting the London and Birmingham commuter markets. To date, London Midland has sent nearly 200,000 tweets - more than any other train company in the world - and has

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24,500 followers. London Midland has won the Putting Passengers First National Rail Award twice for using Twitter to communicate with customers. In 2011, the award judges said: “This personalised, friendly service should be well resourced and spread across the whole rail industry. National Passenger Survey scores have gone up - great!” Commenting on the award, Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: “How disruption is dealt with is a key issue for passengers. London Midland’s pioneering and in-depth use of Twitter has paved the way to

much better communication. Cutting through industry jargon with simple, clear, personal messages gives passengers just what they want. “It will be really interesting to see how this service develops.” Go North East was one of the first UK bus companies to communicate with passengers using Facebook. The company now has 48,000 fans on Facebook, and posts competitions, quizzes and photo campaigns on the site. The company has involved local social media experts as the site has developed. Go North East also has a Twitter account with nearly 5,300 followers (@gonortheast). Last year, the company worked with PR agency Admiral on an award-winning campaign to launch the key smartcard. The campaign used social media platforms to push out flash mob videos and launch updates. Metrobus was the first Go-Ahead bus company to establish a Facebook page and now keeps 13,000 fans up to date, providing the very latest service news, 24 hours a day. Oxford Bus Company doubled the number of Facebook “likes” overnight while providing service updates during the heavy snowfall in February 2012. Go-Ahead’s businesses have also identified ways of using social media to interact with staff, many of whom use Twitter and Facebook in their daily lives. Southeastern for example, has a dedicated business and social network for its 3,500 employees. “Our bus and rail services are used by more than 1.7 million passengers a day and they want access to quick and accurate information about their services and the products we offer,” says Samantha Hodder, Go-Ahead’s group corporate affairs director. “Twitter and Facebook deliver that and also enable our passengers to exchange information about our services. “We are committed to becoming a social business and to embracing new and developing communication platforms which add to our established communication tools such as our award-winning websites.”

“We are committed to becoming a social business and to embracing new and developing platforms which add to our established communication tools” 16 November 2012 | 03

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SOCIAL MEDIA @socialbrands100

hasn’t ??? embraced social media fully, it’s rare to find one that doesn’t at least have a Twitter account these days. But as with most tools, it’s not what you have but how you use it that matters.

Be human

Joining the mobile social conversation

Social media plays an essential role for passenger transport brands that want to engage with customers, says Maeve O’Sullivan The internet is well and truly on the move. Earlier this year, the UK became a world leader in smartphone ownership with almost 50% @maeve_os of the population now in Headstream possession of a handset, a 15% increase over the previous 12 months. Alongside mobile connectivity, people are sharing their experiences on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to name just a few. These social platforms allow users to consume high quality personal content in real time. So today’s passenger has the opportunity to share his or her travel experiences - the good and the bad - in an instant to an audience of millions. This audience is composed of friends, family, influencers, and brands. And when people converse with brands, they expect to be heard. 04 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p04-05 4

Social media is also changing the way people plan their journeys. People search for reviews and recommendations from those they trust. Social commerce enables brands to focus on both the customer experience and the transaction, and customers are likely to share their experiences online afterwards, feeding into the review and recommendation buying process for other potential customers. Over the last few years, businesses have adapted to this change in expectations and behaviour with varying degrees of success, but it’s fair to say that even if a company

“Those that adapt to this changed environment are reaping the benefits”

Social media plays an essential role for passenger transport brands that want to maintain high standards of customer service and convince customers to spend their leisure time on the train or bus instead of in the car. Most bus and train operators have logically extended their customer service function to Twitter and Facebook, providing real time service updates and handling queries and complaints. This is a useful tactical approach to employ, but Social Brands 100 research indicates that for today’s customer, this kind of approach is just the foundation to building a sustainable relationship that is both respectful and mutually beneficial. Successful brands in the age of social media need, quite simply, to be human. This means investing emotionally in communities and creating strong one-to-one relationships - focusing more energy on being interested, then on trying to be interesting. This year’s Social Brands 100 assessed 300 brands’ performance on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and foursquare and five passenger transport brands featured in the final 100; TrentBarton (29th), National Rail Enquiries (36th ), Cardiff Bus (45th ), Chiltern Railways (62nd ), and Virgin Trains (81st ). When brand performance on individual platforms was analysed, passenger transport companies scored particularly highly for interactions on Twitter and Facebook compared to other sectors, largely down to the good customer service channels they have in place. The opportunity for these brands lies in moving from a broadcast approach, merely disseminating information, towards a more helpful conversation with customers. East Midlands bus operator TrentBarton ranked second overall on Facebook, scoring well for the level of response it gets to posts from its community, as well as how the brand interacts with fans who post messages. National Rail Enquiries performed very well on Twitter, ranking first for its performance on the platform overall. The UK rail portal also ranked highly for the timeliness with

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TRANSPORT IN THE SOCIAL BRANDS 100 RANK 19 29 36 45 55 62 62 71 80 81


which it responds to tweets. Chiltern scored well for its performance on both Twitter and Facebook and ranked tenth overall for its engagement with fan posts on Facebook. The rail operator posts photos of the sources of service disruption, often taken by the engineers on site in the process of clearing the problem. This approach prompts messages of support from the community and builds a better understanding of the challenges the company faces.

Passion for the brand Although the passenger transport sector is well represented on Social Brands 100, the top 30 was dominated by charity and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) brands. Most third sector brands have employees who believe strongly in the brand and are naturally geared towards listening to and engaging with their communities through volunteer and fundraising efforts, so their high scores are understandable. The top ranked brand in Social Brands 100 this year is FMCG brand Innocent, one that many would argue was founded on social principles before the idea of such things even existed, with their distinctive packaging and ‘bananaphone’ customer helpline. Although the food and drinks company may appear to have made it look easy, their creative and flexible approach has been supported by a passion for the brand’s values held by everyone involved in the business. This has helped Innocent maintain its distinctive voice and customer loyalty despite the change in ownership when Coca-Cola bought a majority stake two years ago.

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Extending engagement across platforms Across all sectors, brands in the ranking are doing a good job supplying engaging content to their communities, particularly on Facebook, but more could be done with photo and video content. The research indicates that on Facebook photos are more likely to generate comments and video content is more likely to be shared. Statistics from YouTube support this finding, reporting that 500 years of video are watched every day on Facebook and over 700 videos are shared every minute on Twitter. It seems that Google+ and foursquare remain a lower priority for many brands who are still working out how best to use these platforms and prioritise their time and resources. Although it might be expected that passenger transport brands would engage more on geo-location platform foursquare, that hasn’t really been the case. Perhaps that will change with the launch of 4G connectivity in the UK in 2013 and the ever deeper penetration of smartphones across the population? People expect a different kind of relationship with brands now and those that are adapting to this changed environment are reaping benefits. The winners in this new mobile social world will be those brands that are listening to their customers and are ready to join the conversation. The question is, how ready is your brand?

ABOUT SOCIAL BRANDS 100 Social Brands 100 was created by social brand agency Headstream and is an annual ranking of brands leading the way in social media. Nominated brands are benchmarked across multiple sectors and three abiding principles: creating win-win relationships with customers; actively listening and responding to their community; and behaving appropriately with a consistent presence, authentic personality, and respect for their communities. Brands are nominated by the community on Twitter. Their interactions are qualitatively and quantitatively analysed and scored by a research team with a contributing panel of industry experts, including representatives from Google and Twitter. Visit to download this year’s report. Follow @socialbrands100 for updates on 2013 nominations in January.


Helping to win (and retain) new customers A cost effective way to drive loyalty East Midlands bus operator TrentBarton sees a new customer retention opportunity on social media. According to commercial director Alex Hornby, many of the brand’s Facebook likes are from 16-25 year olds. “Social Media allows us to chat with our next generation of users (who, at that age, usually can’t wait to drive a car) in a way that no other form of communication can do,” he explains. The company has found social media a cost effective way to drive loyalty and advocacy towards the brand. It also requires commitment, so a few members of the team update and respond to posts out of hours. Hornby says this approach has reduced pressure on the call centre and the number of complaints, not only because the TrentBarton team are transparent and timely with responses, but also because the community itself will often step in. It’s important to have fun and generate creative content too, so TrentBarton also talks about local events, relationships with other organisations, and its drivers, which often sparks the most interaction. The team has been making make more of hashtags on Twitter over the last year, and a YouTube channel and Pinterest Page are in development to showcase content, including customer testimonials and more about the buses and drivers. Although the brand keeps an eye on trends so it can continue to adapt in a rapidly changing environment, Hornby says fundamentally, social media is about responding and engaging with customers. He says: “Making them feel good about you is what will drive your revenues.”

“Social media allows us to chat with our next generation of users” Alex Hornby, TrentBarton

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SOCIAL MEDIA @nationalrailenq


NRE supplemented its national service with individual feeds covering each train operating company, at a time when only one operator, First Capital Connect, had adopted Twitter

NRE - the nation’s top tweeter

National Rail Enquiries has used Twitter to respond swiftly and helpfully to requests for information

In May, National Rail Enquiries (NRE) was recognised in Headstream’s Social Brands 100 report as the premier provider of Twitter services in any industry sector, seeing off competition from the likes of BBC, MTV and Motorola. Feedback from the judges suggested that NRE won by a considerable margin. “Where we scored best was in the usefulness of the information we provide and the speed we answer enquiries from our followers, typically within 5-6 minutes,” says NRE head of passenger information Jason Durk. “What’s particularly pleasing is that although there was an expert assessment panel, the nominations were user-led.” He believes a potential next step could be to explore greater co-ordination with Twitter feeds run by train operators to strengthen provision across the industry. The recognition in the Social Brands 100 report is testament to the development of NRE’s Twitter service since its launch of a rail industry-first feed in June 2009, focused on providing real time information on disruption anywhere on the network. Within weeks, 06 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p06-07 6

NRE had supplemented its national service with individual feeds covering each train operating company, at a time when only one operator, First Capital Connect, had adopted Twitter. That initiative, mirrored in NRE’s use of Facebook, was based on customer focus groups which have informed the development of its Twitter provision since its inception. Many improvements have centred on tailoring coverage to individual followers’ needs. An interface with the NRE real time journey updates (originally only available via SMS) was introduced so that followers could opt to receive tweets for specific journeys. In September, the gap between specific journey information and national network information was filled with an option for followers to receive details of any disruption

by line of route. The principle of using Twitter as a social media community tool to provide a wide coverage of information has also been embraced by retweeting information from sources including TfL, the TOCs and Network Rail, as well as useful tweets sent by passengers. As followers have grown over the past three years, strategies were implemented to manage the demand on the National Rail Communication Centre (NRCC) which answers followers’ enquiries and helps them re-plan their journeys during disruption, in addition to updating tweets in real time as information becomes available. Key strands include monitoring Twitter traffic to understand the issues passengers are facing as they arise. Relevant information is then placed

“Our strategy is to have those one-to-one conversations with any follower who makes an enquiry, but to reduce the need for them” Jason Durk, NRE

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on the NRE feeds pre-empting enquiries that are likely to be received. When enquiries are made, answers are framed in a way that teaches passengers to self serve. Where possible they contain weblinks to relevant pages to minimise the number of tweets required in a contact, and circulate knowledge of where passengers can find information for future reference. “Our strategy is to have those one-to-one conversations with any follower who makes an enquiry, but to reduce the need for them,” Durk says. “There is a danger that as more and more people try to converse with you it can spiral out of control because you need more staff to do it and the business case becomes difficult.” With the NRCC social media team having been expanded to four people, Durk believes it has ample capacity to handle growth in the short to medium term. He expects it to be sufficient to serve at least double the current 130,000 NRE followers, 50,000 of which follow the national feed with the remainder spread across NRE’s Twitter platforms for individual TOCs, as well as the 30,000 NRE Facebook fans. In addition, a social media executive has been recruited to manage NRE’s social media image, monitor the response to NRE’s information tools and act to improve any weaknesses. When the journey planning website was revamped earlier this year, a step-by-step YouTube guide was compiled to help passengers through new functionality. While the number of NRE Twitter followers represents a small proportion of passengers, Durk points out that the actual number of users is likely to be many times greater. Focus groups have highlighted that many people use the service directly as an information source when they encounter disruption; they don’t proactively ‘follow’ the feed, but dip in when they require it. NRE’s alerts are also retweeted by major news organisations such as the BBC and Sky reaching many more thousands of potential rail customers. He predicts that the service will continue to grow to the extent that social media platforms will become “very much the norm” for people seeking information on service disruption. The blend of instant real time information, accessibility, and the ability to provide tailored responses to help people replan journeys is seen as a powerful combination.

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Cross-industry strategy could make most of the potential There may be a case for NRE and TOCs to co-ordinate Twitter services With social media beginning to emerge from its infancy, NRE head of passenger information Jason Durk believes that in the near future operators and NRE will need to consider working closer together to develop a cross-industry strategy to take full advantage of its potential, avoid pitfalls and learn from best practice. In particular, there could be potential to explore co-ordination of NRE’s Twitter service and those provided by train operators. The aim would be to provide information in line with passenger expectations across the railway, and cement a viable business case to maintain quality of information as followers increase. At present, Twitter information is provided in a variety of formats. Some TOCs offer a focused service dedicated largely to real time updates; others also use their Twitter feed for marketing and promotional purposes. Some TOCs like to respond to all customer enquiries; others tweet to thank customers individually and provide supplementary information such as details of sporting events. This happened during the Olympics where some TOCs were tweeting the Team GB medal count. “People follow a Twitter account because they want information relevant to that source,” says Durk. “If a customer wanted the Olympic medal tally they could follow a feed that gave them it. Sending this information to railway customers on a railway account could undermine that account’s usefulness”. And this was evidenced by some negative customer tweets during the Olympics. He continues: “Providing value-added information is what we all aspire to deliver, but Twitter has to be used effectively else you can quickly find yourself in Twitter jail and you lose the ability to provide information when your customers need it most”. The volume of Twitter messages sent is important as operators run the risk of being put into ‘Twitter Jail’ - this is a period of time where the ability to tweet is suspended for ‘over-

tweeting’. It has occurred to a number of TOCs and prevents Twitter services being provided at times of key demand. NRE has worked with Twitter to increase their tweeting threshold when they expect many tweets to be required - for example during the Olympics. This can also be managed in advance if there is an expectation that traffic will increase, during poor weather for example. The variety of approaches also means that different TOCs have different manpower requirements to operate their feeds and respond to followers’ enquiries - some TOCs send information automatically with no manpower required, whilst others respond individually to all passenger queries. Larger resource requirements could adversely impact the business case of their Twitter service as demand grows. Feedback from the NRE focus groups suggests that NRE’s Twitter accounts are seen as a more reliable source of information on how services are running while operators’ Twitter accounts are believed to be more successfully used as a marketing tool. Research on the use of social media, carried out by Passenger Focus, shows that NRE is seen as a more trustworthy source of delay information than the train operators themselves because of their impartiality. Durk says “The NRCC already manages a number of TOC Twitter accounts out of hours” and suggests that “it can be reasoned that the NRCC could provide the initial disruption information to inform customers of delays with the TOCs fielding specific enquiries. This is the arrangement we have with one TOC already and it works really well, providing consistency with other channels and also that personal touch from the TOC.” “It’s not clear yet what the answer is,” Durk says, “but, as social media becomes more ingrained in everyday life, these are the sorts of issues that, as an industry, we must consider to ensure we can provide passengers with the quality of information they need at a sustainable cost.”

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SOCIAL MEDIA @arrivayorkshire

Arriva Yorkshire joined Facebook in 2009 and since then has been ‘liked’ by more than 5,000 users of the social media site

Arriva jumps aboard the social revolution

Facebook and Twitter are now key communication channels at Arriva’s bus businesses in the North East and Yorkshire The rise of social media has given transport operators a unique opportunity to engage with their customers and for Chloe Leach O’Connell, head of regional marketing and communications with Arriva’s bus operations in Yorkshire and the North East, it is something that passengers want too. “It’s a live platform which allows us to interact directly with our customers” she explains. “It’s been a couple of years now since we started with the objective of providing service updates; we wanted to get information out to our passengers as quickly and directly as possible. Once we had a following we could then begin engaging with our customers on other levels.” She believes that social media has a vital opportunity for the industry as a whole by opening up a whole new dialogue with customers. “From a marketing point of view it’s extremely valuable,” Leach O’Connell says “It’s driven by brand personality and gives a powerful insight into our customers’ perceptions of our business.” 08 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p08 8

The Yorkshire and North East businesses were pioneers, setting up Facebook and Twitter pages that provided service updates. The success of the medium grew from there and at times of disruption, social media has come into its own. Michelle Cooper, who works with Leach O’Connell in managing the Yorkshire social media channels, describes how during one particularly grim December a couple of years ago the channels took off. “The weather was horrible and passengers from across the region wanted to know how their services were affected,” she says. “We were able to provide direct updates from our depots and kept customers on the move. The passengers really appreciated this live information and our number of ‘likes’ and

“For every campaign or promotion we do, we’re now thinking digitally”

‘followers’ really soared.” The success of the social media platforms has given the Yorkshire and North East teams the confidence to experiment with other forms of digital marketing which 10 or even five years ago did not exist. “For every promotion we now use digital content,” says Leach O’Connell. “We’re not only using Facebook and Twitter, but increasingly YouTube too. The social media sites are the starting point, but now for every campaign or promotion we do, we’re now thinking digitally.” The strategies developed by Leach O’Connell, with help from Cooper in Yorkshire and Michelle McGuire in the North East, are now being rolled out elsewhere in Arriva’s UK bus division, with their expertise being used to get the other parts of the business up and running. “There are 10 million Twitter users in the UK and that is growing,” says Nick Gordon, the group’s marketing manager. “We’d be foolish to ignore it as it’s a platform that people want to use and feel comfortable with. Customer service is a high priority for us, but we can also use it as a medium to raise awareness of our products, like mobile ticketing or to push online sales by driving people to our websites.” Gordon and his team have aimed to bring consistency to Arriva’s marketing efforts at the UK bus division over the last couple of years. That has led to the development of a house style that unites the Arriva brand. This is now being used to create social media channels for all of Arriva’s UK bus businesses and, thanks to the work of the Yorkshire and North East team spreading best practice, will ensure that the messages, as well as the look and feel of the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages, will be consistent across the patch. For the future, Gordon reveals that 2013 will see the group examining ways in which its new customer relationship management systems can be linked to social media channel. “That could be an extremely powerful and effective way of getting our key commercial messages out there,” he adds.

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SWT’s control room at Waterloo

Considered approach pays off

South West Trains was slow to embrace social media but the company has been quick to catch up

Discussions at South West Trains in the year before the launch of its Twitter real time information feed last September highlighted the dilemma facing customer service organisations on how to react to the rise of social media. Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and blogs had given passengers an unprecedented capability to publicise their views on any failings to a wide audience of like-minded customers and create momentum to demand better. The question was how to respond to the trend effectively and how to harness social media platforms to best advantage in a railway context. In some quarters of South West Trains, many train operators’ initial use of Twitter as an automated information source was viewed as contrary to the interactive community principles on which social media is based. 10 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p10-11 10

In others there was considerable nervousness over whether Twitter should be adopted at all, given the negative media coverage associated with misuse and celebrity scandals. There was also concern over the potential scale of the task of interacting effectively with large numbers of followers in a personalised manner. South West Trains carries more than 200 million passengers a year and operates one of the busiest and most complex commuter rail networks in Europe. The sheer size of the network and commuter base also had to be taken into account when rolling out its social media strategy.

“We are finding people are thanking us if we resolve issues”

“That’s why we were one of the later train companies to adopt it,” explains Adam Piddington, South West Trains head of information and customer experience. “It was unclear to us what the customer reaction would be, so we took some time deciding how to do it, looking at how other train companies were developing it and working out what would work best for us.” For South West Trains, the solution was to base responsibility for its @SW_Trains Twitter feed at its operational control centre at Waterloo, rather than in the communications and marketing department. It meant the service would be positioned firmly as an information, rather than promotional, tool. Updates and responses to followers’ enquiries would be provided by managers with direct access to, and deep understanding of, how the network is operating in real time, and in

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particular any disruption. Real time Tweets are currently input directly by the company’s most senior information manager, who shares a desk with the route control manager, effectively head of the WICC. Responses to followers’ enquiries are made directly by information and customer experience managers in the centre. Individual staff take responsibility for finding any information requested, monitoring progress on fixing a complaint and providing updates. “The key is that we have brought people into WICC with specific responsibility for information, so they sit next to the control managers,” says Piddington “They have access to first hand information and use their skills to translate it into language customers can relate to using 140 characters or less. It’s a real skill and is not something everyone can do.” To ensure sufficient capacity to respond to followers’ inquiries during times of severe disruption, suitably qualified managers from across the rest of the company have been trained to provide assistance at times of high demand. Piddington says the success of the approach is evident in the 22,000 followers South West Trains has attracted making it the third most followed operator despite its relatively late adoption. With 1,500-2,000 new Twitter followers per month, its feed also has the second fastest growth rate behind Virgin among train companies with over 10,000 followers. Equally, he judges its success as much by the manner of customers’ response, which has exceeded his expectations. “What makes me really believe that this has a big future is that I thought it might become predominantly a forum for public complaints, but actually we are finding people are thanking us if we resolve issues, and regulars will say good morning and tell us they are pleased if everything is running well. It has also opened up a new style of less formal but professional communication which can help build relationships. And followers who make inquiries can see straightaway that an individual has taken responsibility for keeping them informed. It’s changed the dynamic of the way we interact.” Significantly, the real time responses from South West Trains’s Twitter followers has had a wider impact in influencing the decisions operations staff in the control centre

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make when devising service responses to disruption. “One of the most powerful things about it is that people in our operational control centre never get to look into the whites of customers’ eyes and see the impact of the decisions they make,” says Piddington. “Now it is obvious instantly from customers’ reactions on Twitter, so it almost acts as a conscience to route controllers.” The expectation of a potential doubling in followers over the next year has led to social media becoming cemented in the company’s future information strategy. A Facebook page was launched at the start of October and the operational control centre is recruiting three new information staff. Part of their remit will be to provide coverage to maintain the quality of responses via South West Trains’s social media platforms, as use expands. The decision to harness social media has also paid dividends, beyond the primary purpose of providing a more interactive means of delivering real time service updates. They range from communicating more effectively with opinion formers in the social media community (see panel) to aspects of customer service, such as lost property. “We have had followers who have contacted us to say they have left a bag on a train just after they have left the station and we have been able to find it before the train departs again and get it back to them within 10 minutes,” Piddington says. “That’s one of the great advantages of Twitter. It means we can react almost instantly.” In addition, analysis of the conversations with and among Twitter followers has indicated that certain concerns are more important to passengers than may otherwise have been suspected. “It’s also been really powerful in helping us understand where we are not meeting customer aspirations and where we need to take action,” Piddington says. Looking to the future, he believes there is potential to significantly broaden the way social media is used. For example, South West Trains’s first ‘Tweet the Manager’ session in October could be developed further to enable virtual events with answers displayed on big screens to be held in the same locations as physical ‘Meet the Manager’ sessions. “It’s aspirational stuff but why not,” he says. “Meet the Manager needs refreshing and I think it would make an impact.”

Engaging with the critics

After the January 2012 fare rises, a disgruntled South West Trains commuter set up an aptlynamed ‘My6percent’ blog and Twitter feed. It was dedicated to highlighting failings in South West Trains’s service and questioning the value of the fare increase in a no-punches-pulled manner. However, in recent weeks, there has been some softening of My6percent’s tone. For Adam Piddington, South West Trains’s head of information and customer experience, it is a demonstration of how the railway can use its own social media platforms and the data they provide to engage with its most vocal critics. In the case of My6percent, direct contact was made after Twitter data analysis was used to identify the @SW_Trains feed’s most influential followers. The company’s perspective was explained to her. The conversations have coincided with more measured criticism of senior management, congratulating South West Trains staff on the way they deal with issues raised via the South West Trains Twitter service, and on occasion, mild defence of South West Trains on some matters. “She directs messages to us all the time now, her whole tone has changed and she has actually got very fair on her blog too,” Piddington says. “Social media is out there and we need to engage with it, both through the services we provide and through the way others use it.”

“Social media is out there and we need to engage with it” 16 November 2012 | 11

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SOCIAL MEDIA @cardiffbus

A popular feature of Cardiff Bus’s Twitter and Facebook feeds has been its ‘Iff you were here…’ item. This encourages followers to upload pictures of themselves on holiday with their iff card Cardiff Bus’s travel card

Cardiff Bus dives into social media

Cardiff Bus has embraced social media channels and was ranked at number 45 in this year’s authoritative Social Brands 100 list Since 2009, Cardiff Bus has been using both Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis to communicate with the public, recognising the customer service opportunity social media presented and the potential it would bring in allowing them to update customers on the service. The @cardiffbus Twitter feed was initially launched by Cardiff Bus in 2009 and, since then, has grown a steady list of followers which currently stands at over 5,500. The timing of the Twitter launch coincided with a period of particularly heavy snow, and the use of Twitter proved a great help in allowing Cardiff Bus to communicate service changes, delays and cancellations to customers on an as-ithappened basis. Victoria Rees-Price, marketing manager at Cardiff Bus, says: “Using Twitter during the 12 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p12 12

heavy snow conditions acted as a great launch pad for us to experience the effectiveness of Twitter in helping us to communicate with our customers. We knew every possible communication tool would be crucial during such difficult times in order to keep our customers up to speed with the latest updates on their services. “Since then both Twitter and Facebook have evolved naturally and have played crucial roles in helping us to keep our customers up to date not only during periods of bad weather, but also during major events in Cardiff and when

“We’ve had a fantastic response to our Twitter and Facebook feeds”

there are bad traffic accidents or diversions. We can provide real-time updates and inform our customers with what is happening on our network - or around the city on the whole.” As well as offering up-to-the-minute details on the service, Cardiff Bus has also used social media proactively for marketing messages and has developed a series of competitions and offers via its Twitter and Facebook feeds. A popular feature has been its ‘Iff you were here…’ item which encourages followers to upload pictures of themselves on holiday with their iff card - Cardiff Bus’s travel card. Social media is also used by Cardiff Bus for customer feedback and surveys and, through active engagement and interaction with customers on social media, Cardiff Bus has been able to take on board constructive feedback and make changes accordingly for the benefit of its customers. This has included the introduction of ‘short hop’ and group fares; as well as a much quicker identification of persistent delays to buses. The result is that Cardiff Bus has developed a friendly online voice via its Twitter and Facebook feeds that provides open and honest responses to comments and queries in real time and interacts with followers. As recognition of its achievements in using social media to good effect, Cardiff Bus was ranked at number 45 in the authoritative Social Brands 100 list which was announced in May; joint with BBC and BlackBerry. The prestigious list puts brands taking the lead in the social age into the spotlight. They were also ranked number 4 overall for Facebook performance, and currently have over 4,000 ‘likes’ on their Facebook page. Victoria Rees-Price continues: “We were absolutely thrilled to have been named on the Social Brands 100 list. It really is a testament to the hard work we’ve put in as a team to build our online presence and create a ‘voice’ for Cardiff Bus. Our social media channels have become key for us in communicating instantly with all our stakeholders, and responding instantly to their needs. “We’ve had a fantastic response to our Twitter and Facebook feeds and it’s been great to see the steady increase of followers. We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to communicate with our customers and we look forward to continuing to develop this great work in the future.”

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SOCIAL MEDIA @PassengerFocus


Just tell me when I’ll get home! Passengers don’t want a ‘mate-like’ tone from transport operators. They want information delivered in a direct and professional way Recently Passenger Focus conducted research into rail passengers’ experiences of and needs from social media such as Twitter and David Facebook. The message we Sidebottom got was that passengers do not want train companies to be their friend, especially in times of disruption - they want relevant information and fast. Our research looked at the role of social media in communicating with passengers when trains are disrupted, as well as how train companies use social media in other areas. We set out to: explore passengers’ experiences; understand passengers’ demands; assess awareness and perceptions of social media applications; investigate how train companies should respond to passengers via social media; and find out what passengers think social media channels should be used for. As the independent watchdog for Britain’s 14 | 16 November 2012 PassengerTransport_socialmedia_p14-15 14

rail passengers (as well as bus, coach and tram passengers in England outside of London), we aim to make a difference by using our research to help the industry deliver a service that people want. Once we better understood what passengers needed and wanted, and what the rail industry is currently providing, we held a briefing session to advise operators on what they could do to improve. The key lesson we shared with them was that passengers do not want train operators to be their friends. They want information that is relevant and important to them, in a formal and professional tone. Unlike consumers in other sectors, such as retail and entertainment, rail passengers only expect interaction on their terms and have no desire to build some form of relationship. The research also highlighted an important distinction in perceptions of social media: Facebook is used as a truly ‘social’ medium and Twitter is more likely to be used as an information channel. Facebook usage is more socially driven and tends to have a highly

personal focus. Twitter is used to broadcast and receive information in real time and to keep ahead of other media to find out what is going on. This clear distinction between usage means that train companies could tailor each of their different social media outlets, making sure that passengers are getting exactly what we want. Twitter is all about instant accessibility and device choice is therefore very important in this. Many passengers use smartphones, and use them everywhere. Smartphones have become part of our morning routines; we even check emails and Twitter or Facebook before getting out of bed. A smartphone is likely to be closer to hand than a laptop and takes less effort to access than a PC. We want train companies to understand this so that they can improve the ways that they feed us information. Some passengers were not aware that their train company has a Twitter feed. The majority that did had an extremely low expectation of its usefulness, mainly due to disappointing communications in the past. “You get so used to being let down by transport companies that you think your comments won’t have any impact. From experience you don’t expect great customer service because rail staff are generally quite unhelpful so why would things suddenly change?” said one London commuter. Past experience means that passengers do not expect much when it comes to the operator responding to tweets. Surprisingly, passengers were more likely to trust and obtain the real-time information provided by other passengers that were using the same line, in a passive rather than interactive way. But wouldn’t train companies prefer passengers to get their information directly from them? For train companies in general this highlights a fundamental problem: trust. They will need to make changes and evolve their use of social media to meet passengers’ needs and to change their perceptions by delivering what passengers want. The research found that users are receptive to train company Twitter feeds in principle, so the rail industry’s challenge now is to communicate more effectively. During the research we were able to pinpoint exactly what passengers wanted from their train operator’s tweets during delays and disruptions: they wanted direct, factual, consistent, professional and helpful

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information. However during periods of good service, tweets can have greater flexibility and a more friendly tone is welcomed. Passengers do want to be reassured but there is also the opportunity for the train operator to build confidence by tweeting ‘good news.’ There is a balance to be struck between providing helpful status updates and overwhelming passengers with irrelevant information. This knowledge for train companies can be useful in building trust, and delivering what passengers want. When it comes to language and tone, passengers want tweets to be free from abbreviations and technical speak. A consistent tone could really help a train company in building an audience - if passengers know what they are getting from a company’s feed and can understand them they are more likely to return in the future. Different tweets require different levels of engagement. If a passenger asks the train operator a direct question, they expect a direct answer back as soon as possible. But when a passenger is using Twitter to vent they do not necessarily expect a reply, or even acknowledgement. In relation to rants and complaints, passengers required a relatively low level of engagement, with no real expectation of a reply; some passengers even felt that Twitter was an unsuitable place to make complaints due to it being too public, informal and character-limited. If train companies begin to understand this they will be able to manage their time on social media more effectively by knowing which passengers want help or information or who just wants to

Passenger views “Life’s too short for this kind of stuff. Do I really want to be listening to someone else who is as miserable as me, spreading the sadness?” COMMUTER, LONDON

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voice an opinion. Unlike Twitter, passengers saw Facebook as a less desirable medium to engage with train operators. Passengers are aware that operators use Facebook but are not interested in engaging with them. Passengers told us that they viewed their Facebook as ‘personal’ space, and are not willing to let train companies into it. They felt that connecting themselves with companies, such as a train operator, they would be indicating some form of relationship with them. As well as this, passengers said that they don’t want marketing from train companies clogging up their news feeds, when all they are interested in seeing is what their friends are doing. When exploring these different social media channels we also looked at passenger forums and blogs, examining the way that passengers want to use them and the possible benefits of them. It was first thought that a forum would be a good place to get information about services and possibly somewhere for operators provide updates for passengers. However, it became apparent that passengers thought the only people who would be interested in a rail forum would be train enthusiasts. One London commuter said: “Life’s too short for this kind of stuff. Do I really want to be listening to someone else who is as miserable as me, spreading the sadness?” The majority of people use smartphones, and you can pretty much get an app for anything from exercise apps to design your own beard ones. And not surprisingly travel apps are really popular. Passengers are able to see the exact information that they need, and filter it

to show only that information, so that there is no need to search around as you might have to with Twitter, Facebook and even forums. This research has shown that social media is becoming more and more important when it comes to people’s need for information, especially when relating to travel. With the evolution of these channels, passengers’ expectations and needs are growing, and it is imperative that the rail industry keeps up with these demands. It seems likely that Twitter will become an increasingly important channel for train companies to deliver information to passengers. The future of train companies’ Twitter accounts could see many different feeds relating to different issues, for example a dedicated feed for disruption, or special offers. At Passenger Focus we aim to improve travel for passengers. We are now looking to encourage train operators to take on board this research and develop their social media activities, in turn improving travel for you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Sidebottom started his new role as Passenger Focus’s passenger team director in June 2011. He initially started working at Passenger Focus in January 2006 as a passenger link manager before being promoted to the post of bus passenger director in January 2010. Prior to this he spent over 11 years representing the needs and interests of energy consumers in the north west of England where he was regional director of Energywatch.

“You get so used to being let down by transport companies that you think your comments won’t have any impact. Rail staff are generally quite unhelpful so why would things suddenly change?”

“I use Facebook to communicate with friends, if I’m bored I might have a look at their photos and see what they are up do. Twitter is better for finding out about things, and quickly”



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PT045 social media supp