What Washington Metro can learn about Twitter

Comparing the tweets of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (DC) with those of other agencies, Greater Greater Washington says that Metro has a lot to learn. The blog praised the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NY) for keeping riders in the loop after a recent derailment, and wrote: “Social media engagement isn’t simply about one’s successes; it’s about one’s failures, too.” GGW contributor Kurt Raschke says that riders want more than Metro’s automated tweets and encourages WMATA to respond to rider comments in real time:

Tweeting for a transit agency isn’t a 9-to-5 job. Whenever the system is open, riders should be able to seek help on Twitter and get a response. Twitter is all about immediacy, and if you’re trying to find out why your bus is late, or report a problem on your train, getting a response the next morning may not help. WMATA may not be able to provide round-the-clock coverage on Twitter, but signing off before the evening rush hour isn’t a recommended practice, either.

While transit riders may not conform to a 9-to-5 schedule, even GGW’s Twitter favorites — MTA and the Port Authority Trans Hudson trains — let their employees catch some shuteye. The MTA’s @NYCTSubwayScoop is monitored an impressive 13 hours a day, from 9 AM to 10 PM, while @PATHTweet is live every weekday from 8 AM to 5 PM. Link to full story in Greater Greater Washington.

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Alicia Mazzara

This could be an opportunity for WMATA to improve their image, because as of right now, they do a pretty terrible job disseminating critical transit information in a timely manner. I wish they would also take a cue from the DC Dept of Transportation’s Twitter feed. DDOT does an excellent job of reporting delays, emergencies, accidents, and are responsive when customers tweet questions or complaints.

Bill Murray

Susan, this is an excellent example about how social media allows a two-way conversation between large organizations such as WMATA and their customers (riders). It sounds as though WMATA is using Twitter to broadcast information between certain hours. As you point out, their serving such a networked city requires them to do a bit more if they are to be effective at using social media.

Susan Bregman

It’s an interesting challenge for public agencies – how to find the staff resources to respond to customer expectations for instant information.

What seems to be most frustrating for WMATA riders (and I’m not located in the District, so I can’t speak to this from daily experience) is the lack of interaction. Maybe things will change, but it’s been my understanding that WMATA made a policy decision to use Twitter exclusively as a channel for broadcasting service updates.

While I’m sure riders appreciate the service alerts, they also want government agencies to respond to their questions and comments in real time. The Greater Greater Washington piece cited a few examples of agencies that use Twitter to connect with their customers, including New York’s MTA and PATH. Another example is Vancouver’s TransLink (@translink), which has integrated Twitter into its customer service call center.