A look at Vancouver Translink’s Twitter pilot

Most readers are already aware that Metro has a few Twitter accounts including @MetroLAalerts – an account dedicated solely to service alerts that was launched last February. What readers might not know is that there is no dedicated Twitter team at Metro. In fact, most of the updates on @MetroLAalerts and @MetroLosAngeles come from one dedicated young staff planner who in addition to his normal duties provides the round-the-clock updates and replies.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at what our friends at Vancouver’s Translink have been doing with a Twitter pilot they’ve been running the past few months. The pilot is covered in great detail over at The Buzzer Blog (with some great charts), but here are the basics:

  • The @Translink Twitter pilot launched in November 2010.
  • The agency had a Twitter account prior to the pilot (3,883 followers) but it wasn’t fully staffed or consistently updated.
  • The pilot involved adding an additional customer information staff member for each shift who would consistently monitor the Twitter account between 6:30am and 11:30pm.
  • In the first month of the pilot, the number of people following the Translink Twitter account increased by 1,140 to 5,023 followers – a 30%  increase.
  • The number of tweets coming from the agency increased from 278 tweets in October 2010 to 1,151 tweets in December – a 314% increase.
  • Translink also embraced the two-way nature of Twitter and began following their followers – they followed 75 in October and increased to 884 in November.
  • A foul weather event in late November that led to an increase in tweets from the agency also led to an increase in followers, mentions and retweets.
  • The pilot has been extended to the end of this month and the agency hopes to continue the service pending funding approval.

Feedback from customers and staff has been positive. Staff was apprehensive at first but acclimated quickly to the technology and the feedback from customers has created a positive feedback loop – morale is up in the customer information department!

Today the @Translink has 6,458 followers and follows 1,374 people. By point of comparison, the @MetroLosAngeles Twitter has 3,538 followers and follows 46 people.

Obviously, the key to Translink’s Twitter pilot was getting the budget for the additional staff members – is such a project a worthy investment for Metro? The numbers and feedback from Translink seem to point to “yes.” However a recent (unscientific) poll on The Source shows our readers have mixed feelings about Twitter with 35% responding “I don’t use Twitter, never will!”

Categories: Technology

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12 replies

  1. Please take our volunteer MTA planner providing the sole Twitter coverage and wrap him in cotton & keep him fed well!!!! Transit use of Twitter has nothing to do with “social networking” (which I suspect is why some folks find it a negative use of resources), it’s all about INFORMATION. For those of us who are bi-transportation modal, it’s not very efficient to find out about service delays AFTER you arrive at the rail station, you need to know that BEFORE you depart. The MTA Twitter Angel is helping to prevent that, keep us happier, and therefore want to use MTA more. 🙂

  2. Can we have a loot at Vancouver’s Translink better system, and how are going to improve the LA top negative public transportation system to Vancouver system.
    Yes, the twitter system is good, but without the good transportation system, why bother
    I was in Vancovuer couple times. and every time I went, I hate LA more.
    Stick to the basic

  3. Exactly how am I supposed to fully express a complaint in 140 words or less? I can agree that it is a useful tool, but, it has limited applicable resources as a complaint medium. Sounds like another excuse to raise the rates. How about they just add more staff to keep a constant update on the bus lines? That way when they are late we can better plan.

  4. Not only is it a great way to learn about delays and re-routes due to traffic incidents, inclement weather or break-downs, it adds a layer of security. Witnessing unsavory behavior, drunks and violence, one is able to let the transit system operators know what’s happening, especially on the automated rapid transit system that isn’t staffed. I am very happy Translink are operating this relevant communication system. @translink

  5. I’m a Vancouverite who doesn’t even use Tranlink, but applaud them for their public engagement. Getting people onside with Translink is so important to growing our sustainable transportation solutions for the future!

    There is a huge population of students here who rely on the bus everyday, and I’m guessing this is their key Twitter following. (younger demos seem to use the tool more than the 40crowd) Could this age consideration also impact the results of your survey?

  6. Wow—thanks so much for spotlighting our Twitter work, Fred!

    I just want to reiterate that the Twitter pilot is going REALLY well for us. Customers are happy, our staff are happy, and we’re getting information out there to people who need it. And yes, even though not all of our customers will ever use Twitter, a huge amount of discussion about our service has always happened through Twitter—so we thought it was well worth connecting where those conversations are happening.

    Can’t wait to see what Metro does in the Twitter space: you guys already do a stellar job in engaging with your customers via The Source!

    Jhenifer @ TransLink

  7. TransLink’s Twitter experience has been positive in part because of the ‘ripple effect’ that the channel creates. Most local media follow us, so if we tweet a service issue, the info finds its way onto radio and TV traffic reports, reaching people who don’t themselves use Twitter.

    The other ripple effect is internal. Far too often, the only public feedback staff hears about is the negative. ‘Tweeps’ in Metro Vancouver have demonstrated that they are just as ready with a commendation as a complaint, and this gives staff at all levels a better notion of public/customer expectations, and a clearer idea of THEIR definition of good service.

    Last month, written service commendations outnumbered written complaints.

  8. As a Vancouver resident who is moving to LA in a few weeks I would love it if I had a similar service once we move. The Vancouver twitter stream has been very valuable to me as I have a commute that is almost one hour each way.

    Plus if you are stuck out and twitter them your location they will help you get to where you want to be.

    *hugs @translink*

  9. I definitely encourage Metro to beef up its Twitter engagement with customer service folks.

    The Los Angeles Fire Department under the legendary Brian Humphrey (@LAFD & @LAFDtalk) (and Brian’s colleagues who handle other shifts throughout the 24 hr day) does an exceptional job and I encourage Metro to reach out to him for his advice on how to best engage with users on Twitter.

    Thanks for asking!