May 25, 2009

Twitter largely untapped by campus bus services

By and large, university transit systems have not yet tapped into the communications potential of Twitter, the social network utility that’s generating thousands of new followers each day.

An informal survey of campus bus operators indicates that few have embraced Twitter’s microblogging service, which allows users to post short messages (maximum of 140 characters) to their “followers” using a computer, phone or other communication device.

One exception is Auburn University’s Tiger Transit in Auburn, Ala. “We use Twitter to inform our student riders of issues with the transit system, such as route delays, temporary stop relocations and when the transit system itself has to be temporarily shut down,” said Tiger Transit spokesperson Christi Story.

Currently, Tiger Transit’s Twitter account, located at http://twitter.com/tigertransit, has 63 followers. Its most recent “tweet,” on April 25, announced its new Facebook page.

Other campus bus operations are ramping up for possible Twitter initiatives. At George Mason University in northern Virginia, Josh Cantor, director of Parking and Transportation, said he plans to use Twitter in the coming weeks.

“We’ll start with updates for shuttles, such as informing delays because of traffic jams or weather,” Cantor said. “We’ll also use it in the fall to communicate alerts for heavy traffic.”

Boise State University in Idaho is also planning a Twitter foray. “We have a Twitter account but have not advertised it yet, nor have we posted anything,” said Nicole Bandas, assistant director of Transportation and Parking Services. “We will be notifying followers of closed parking lots due to events or construction, as well as traffic updates.”

Developing a critical mass of followers is one challenge that colleges and universities will face in maximizing their Twitter potential. Tiger Transit has posted a “Follow Us on Twitter” sign-up graphic, as well as recent tweets, on its website at http://www.auburn.edu/administration/parking_transit/transit/index.php.

At Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Bob Chambers, director of Parking and Transportation, said he does not use Twitter or Facebook. “We expend a lot of time and effort to have a website that is available to all who need information,” he said. “We do use the campus e-mail list serves and direct e-mail to students when we need to put out blanket announcements. This seems to work well for our purposes.”

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