Spotlight on Innovation: Metro Goes Viral

banner_TheSource_1730x480Los Angeles is one of the world’s largest media markets. For Metro, this poses an incredible challenge — and an opportunity. With so much happening, even our bright orange “California Poppy” buses can blend in with the mediascape of billboards, iconic street names and flashing lights.

But Metro has accepted the challenge and wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to play on the big stage and raise the profile of Metro — which will hopefully help increase transit ridership and change some driving behaviors.


Tiny Drake

Metro has embraced social media as a key communications tool for several years. So much so, that Wired Magazine took notice and recently wrote about Metro’s Instagram account.

“Los Angeles may be the country’s car mecca, but it’s also home to the gold standard of transportation accounts. LA Metro is not only in the midst of a precedent-smashing increase in light rail service. It also provides beautifully composed photos of Santa Monica beaches (get there on the new Expo line!), real transit love, and too-chic Angelenos commuting while hot. These cats are so media savvy, they even got on the tiny Drake meme.”

When the music video for Drake’s mega-hit “Hotline Bling” came out, the world was more interested in making memes of Drake dancing than they were in improving public transportation. Drake has been putting out solid meme-bait ever since. The album cover for Views From the Six made it incredibly easy to put a tiny version of Drake in virtually any image, which Metro did in a way that drew attention to making sure two new rail extensions opened smoothly and without incident.

A government agency was so responsive to current events that it used the internet trend of funny tiny rapper meme to promote rail safety. People loved it.


Perhaps Tiny Drake looked too comfortable on the track crossing arms, because the next installment of rail safety media found a balance between fun and serious. The Safetyville public safety announcements received over 1 million views in their first week and were the subject of multiple positive articles that seemed surprised that Metro would put the consequences of being unsafe around trains so bluntly. Jimmy Kimmel mentioned the PSAs on his show, reminding me of that other time he took the Red Line to the Blue Line to the Red Carpet at the Emmys.The message to be safe around trains was well received because Metro stepped outside the traditional government warning model and put something out that would compete for attention in a way more conducive to widespread reception. These PSAs are especially important in neighborhoods that are seeing trains for the first time in decades, and this effort can be seen as implementing a best practice at Metro.

Pokémon Go Metro

Pokemon Go
Pokémon Go’s daily active users rival Twitter on Android. Setting aside the hype, this fact alone shows the emerging popularity of the playable city, gamification, and augmented reality concepts. Metro understood that Pokémon was an opportunity quickly enough to snatch up the Twitter handle @PokemonGoMetro and take advantage of its huge geographic footprint and help customers find Pokémon via bus and train.In the least wonky or academic way possible, Metro found a way to use Pokémon, or perhaps more importantly gamification, to engage new and existing riders and provide an incentive to try the bus or train.

The lessons here are myriad. This shows the power of social media, but it also shows the power of paying attention to and responding to the world outside. In each story, Metro took messages that are beaten to death with transit lingo in board reports and policy memos and brought them to life. Metro did this by speaking the languages of their audience, by understanding their interests, their behaviors, and their humor. People don’t want to feel bad about driving, they want to catch Pokémon.

These tactics don’t tell the whole story. They are part of a strategic effort to humanize Metro and promote the social behaviors that will help transit succeed in Los Angeles. They are part of a brand, a product and a service. But they also reinforce these things by building a culture.

At OEI, we believe that culture drives behavior change, and that people are more likely to ride if everyone else is doing it. Seeing riders on social media helps people insert transit into their community, on their terms, and in ways that work for them. Integrating transit into the most important and preferred aspects of people’s lives is important if we expect them to integrate transit into their lives, and those things might be rap memes and comically violent cartoons.