SEPTA beefs up its ‘social’ assets

Posted on January 16, 2013 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

SEPTA Social Media Team members Ikenna Williams (shown left) and James Siler (right.) (Not shown: Mark Bariglio). 
SEPTA Social Media Team members Ikenna Williams (shown left) and James Siler (right.) (Not shown: Mark Bariglio). 

In this age of smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and other social media, rapid transit has taken on a new meaning.

Passengers not only want to get to their destinations fast, they want information about their trips in an instant, sometimes while even on the go. Gone is the time of learning about what caused a transportation service disruption long after the fact by reading the local paper or watching the evening newscast — details are needed now.

To answer customers’ demands of immediacy, transportation organizations across the country have taken to using a variety of methods to disseminate details as quickly as possible— ranging from real-time service and vehicle tracking applications to Facebook posts that alert riders to upcoming construction projects.  

Over the past four years, Southeastern Pennsylvania Tranportation Authority (SEPTA) has regularly introduced and upgraded the tools it uses to make customers’ rides more interactive. For example, the agency’s transit customers can request the next four scheduled trips or schedule information for their specific routes via text message by using an assigned route stop identification number. The “System Status” feature on SEPTA’s website lists all routes and rail lines, giving details of detours, service alerts and advisories.

Trainview provides SEPTA regional rail customers with an online glimpse of trains out on the rails and if service is running on or close to schedule. Twitter updates announce service delays (and when normal service has resumed) almost as soon as they happen. In addition to tools designed by SEPTA’s in-house IT team, SEPTA has also invited the local tech community to create their own apps for riders.

While helpful in getting passengers to and from their destinations, the apps and web tools don’t lend themselves to being very “social” — there is little or no opportunity for customer s to offer feedback or ask questions and interact with staff. SEPTA’s Facebook page has helped by allowing customers to respond to the agency’s posts about special events, activities and construction, post questions for staff and “converse” with fellow riders.

To complement Facebook, SEPTA recently launched the @SEPTA_Social Twitter feed. Manned by a three-person “Social Media Team,” the feed is live seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Social Media Team is dedicated solely to the transit system’s social media efforts. In addition to tweeting pertinent information and responding to customers’ comments and questions, they also monitor major social media platforms for all things SEPTA related.

Ikenna Williams monitors SEPTA mentions on social media platforms.
Ikenna Williams monitors SEPTA mentions on social media platforms.

After a tweet or post is spotted, the social media specialist will respond directly or gather additional details if needed. This information is passed on to supervisors or other additional internal channels if the situation requires action or attention.

@SEPTA_Social rolled out with a soft launch, but is gaining followers through users re-tweeting responses and online mentions via other social media platforms.

“The early response to @SEPTA_Social not only demonstrates our passengers’ desire for information about SEPTA service, but also their wanting to be heard other than via traditional methods such as in person and by letter or e-mail  or phone call,” said Kim Scott Heinle, SEPTA’ s assistant GM of customer service. “As we continue to build upon our culture of customer service, we will expand upon the ways in which we socially interact with passengers.”

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