Hello, this week the Inside Track talks to Tim E. Healy, Marketing & Creative Services Director at Sound Transit. Sound Transit is the popular name of Washington State’s Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority. Formed in 1996, it operates express bus, commuter rail, and light rail service in the region and constructs capital projects in support and expansion of those services. It also has a popular and engaging social media portfolio including a Twitter Account @SoundTransit which has just under 10k followers.
Luke Upton (LU): Hi Tim, thanks for speaking to us today, so let’s start with a simple question. Why does Sound Transit use social media?
Tim Healey (TH): “No problem. A large percentage of our riders and potential riders use social media. So the conversation is going on about us regardless of whether we use social media or not. We believe it is better to be part of the conversation and engage our customers and potential customers rather than to sit on the side lines and ignore it.”
LU: Thanks, you’ll be speaking at the 3rd Annual Transit Congress in October on how you turn social media followers into paying customers, what is the number one way in which you do this?
TH: “Most of the people who follow a public transit agency on social media are already riders. So, the title of my talk should actually be how to turn potential customers into followers and then customers. Our research shows the biggest challenge facing transit agencies is not to get people to ride public transit. The biggest challenge is to even get them to consider it. Social media is one tool that we can use to increase mindshare. Once we turn them into followers, we have a better chance to overcome their perceived barriers to using transit and get them to try it.
For example, we launched a social media campaign on Facebook and Instagram (supported by Facebook advertising). We created testimonial videos in which current riders tell their stories. The tag line is “What’s your story?” We encourage existing riders to share their stories and photos via Instagram and Facebook. And we encourage potential riders to “begin their story” by trying Sound Transit.”
LU: And what have you found to be the biggest challenges in engaging with transport customers through social media campaigns?
TH: “The biggest challenge in engaging customers through social media is giving them a reason to follow us. This requires a commitment to develop engaging content that riders and potential riders need and want. That is not always an easy thing in an environment where many transit agencies are facing the financial realities of just keeping service on the street. Selling the concept of social media to upper management is almost as challenging.”
LU: If we were talking again in five years time, what do you think the Sound Transit social media offering to passengers could look like?
TH: “Five years ago, we were struggling to comprehend what this thing called social media was and what it meant to public transit agencies. It seemed as if there was a new social media network opening up each week. So it is difficult to even fathom what the social media scene will be five years from now. I imagine it will evolve to the point that there is simply one mega network that everyone is part of.
We are currently developing an online customer panel called Sound Waves. In five years, I’d like to see it grow and become a robust online community, sort of a public transit Facebook.”
LU: Many thank Tim and we look forward to seeing how Sound Waves develops and hearing more in Washington in October.
Tim Healey E. will be one of the 50 expert Speakers at the 3rd Annual Transit Communications congress, taking place in Washington D.C from the 22 October 2013. This is the definitive, cutting-edge event for over 200 communication and passenger service experts. The 2013 show features an innovative and improved programme looking not only at technological evolutions to enhance networks and service, but dedicated streams on fare collection and customer engagement to increase ridership and revenue. Click here to find out how you can attend!