@WMATA – Metro Finds Its Social Voice
Summer has been a busy season for Metro, aka the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). In an effort to increase transparency into the system's operations and improve customer communication, WMATA is rededicating its social media efforts and has made key hires devoted to managing its social presence. In addition, WMATA is actively leveraging information that is collected from rider-submitted tweets to help identify problems and find solutions in a timely manner. While there is still room for improvement, WMATA finally appears to be taking the right steps in social media.
By Kara Reinsel, Senior Strategist
WMATA's social media presence is almost exclusively devoted to its Twitter handle, @WMATA (formerly @MetroOpensDoors).1
With over 13,000 followers, it is a workhorse of real-time, two-way communication between the agency and its riders. It is a critical tool in the day-to-day operations of Metro because it acts as a clearinghouse of data-riders tweet frontline reports and @WMATA shares service disruptions and updates. For example, riders can report Metro cars with broken air conditioning via Twitter by using the hashtag #hotcar; WMATA routinely monitors Twitter for these tweets and deploys maintenance crews where needed.
Having staff dedicated to managing social media properties and driving the strategy is often a weak spot for many organizations. WMATA has addressed this problem by bringing onboard two key hires. The first is Dan Stessel, chief spokesperson for the agency, who regularly responds to the tweets on @WMATA (his tweets are signed ^DS). Brian Anderson, Metro's new social media manager, joined Metro this month and has been tweeting on @WMATA since almost day one (all of his tweets are signed ^BA). Having staff behind @WMATA regularly sign its tweets helps to demonstrate to @WMATA's followers that real people monitor the handle and the information is reliable and accurate. Signing tweets also humanizes Metro employees-they are not anonymous bureaucrats tucked away in a government building. Given the challenges Metro has experienced with broken escalators, hot cars, and most sadly the fatal accident in June 2009,2
replying to riders' tweets is the first step in demonstrating that the agency cares about what happens to its riders-@WMATA isn't a magic bullet, but it's a start.
One area for improvement on @WMATA is to be more selective about who the handle follows. Some of the accounts make perfect sense-the Washington Post's
Dr. Gridlock column, DC Department of Transportation-but others are perplexing choices. Consider @SassyMarmalade, who describes herself as having "a passion for whimsy, sass, shoes and old-fashioned romance. I like to flaunt my cleavage and read books checked out from the library. And eat cake." Her connection to WMATA is unclear. Unfortunately there are dozens of similar Twitter accounts that are being followed by @WMATA-it doesn't look professional and none of these handles has any identifiable reason to be linked to the agency.
Implications and Action Items:
@WMATA serves as an example of how Twitter can be an integral part of an organization's operations by:
1 Washington Post, "@WMATA: Metro changing Twitter handle," Dana Hedgpeth, July 30, 2011. http://tinyurl.com/3uc8vhx
- Communicating directly with customers. @WMATA responds to questions, identifies problems, and provides updates in real time. And it puts a human face on Metro by making it possible for its employees to engage one-to-one with its riders.
- Use of dedicated staff. Dedicated staff ensures the account is monitored and engages with its followers.