Social Media & Transport Planning
8 September 2016

Social Media & Transport Planning

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, social media is defined as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” A strong definition, however it does not convey the true potential of opportunities that social media can offer, particularly when applied to sectors like the transport industry.

We have recognised the opportunities that social media presents; it has become an integral part of marketing initiatives within our behaviour change projects.

A prime example is our work with the City of York Council on the i-Travel York residential and workplace Personalised Travel Planning (PTP) project. After working with the client to create a bespoke social media strategy, we assisted with the promotion of PTP activities and other related sustainable travel content. We grew overall impressions on the @iTravelYork Twitter account from 53.2k to 74.9k in the first month.

So what are the benefits of social media within the transport planning sector and how can social media platforms be utilised to promote sustainable travel initiatives? Furthermore how can social media work alongside Mobility as a Service (MaaS) or Intelligent Mobility projects?

Travel Demand Management and Real-Time Information

A great example of the benefits of social media use within the transport industry is the Get Ahead of the Games campaign which ran alongside the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This example shows how social media can be used to provide real-time information and promote travel alternatives. By retweeting, sharing and engaging in conversations with their audience the @GAOTG Twitter account quickly grew a strong following and this in turn enabled them to become a trusted source of travel information.

Whilst travel updates were a key element of the Twitter page, it became regarded as approachable and personable through highlighting news and achievements from Team GB in the Olympics; a winning combination for transport and social media.

One of the major benefits of utilising social media within transport is the ability to establish two-way conversations with customers and clients. In the dynamic area of transport, the ability to access and provide real-time information is invaluable. Obtaining feedback from customers and sparking up conversation is a valuable way to increase awareness and engagement.

Trent Barton provides a strong example of how two-way conversations and provision of real-time information can be combined. The bus company make use of their social media platforms to provide updates of timetable changes or road closures and it is also active on a daily basis posting interesting content as well as responding to customer queries.

Intelligent Mobility (IM) and Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Social media is an important tool to support IM and MaaS applications as it facilitates the two-way sharing of information between a customer or client and the MaaS platform and service operators as well as acting as a marketing tool for the services available. Social media also represents a key partnership and collaboration opportunity for a MaaS platform, for example hailing an Uber ride from within Facebook Messenger, Facebook takes a cut of the payment and Uber gains access to a very large user base.

For transport planning, social media can also work as a medium for collecting ideas. For example “poll” options on Twitter can allow questions to be asked, such as “Where do you think is the most suitable place for new cycle parking in the city?”. This qualitative data can be supported by geolocation tracking data from mobile devices to flag hotspots, or pinch points in the local transport network. This is exampled in sentiment mapping and social listening which can help to build up a picture of transport issues. By analysing sentiments that are shared on social media via their location, it is possible to map areas where positive and negative sentiment exists.

This can be particularly useful within the transport industry by helping to indicate any issues affecting transport networks within the local area, identifying patterns over the longer term to support strategic network planning. In the short term, it can provide the potential for real time data to be fed back into the wider social network, allowing users to mitigate the planning of their journey or indeed the MaaS platform to automatically feed off this data and recommend alternative options.

A few examples of how social media can be used in this way are found in a CIVITAS report titled “social media to involve citizens in urban mobility projects and city planning".

In conclusion therefore, the potential opportunities that social media can offer to the transport industry are far-reaching, and will only continue to grow in this age of rapid technological change that we’re all experiencing.

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