Social media case study: How Translink sets the right tone on Twitter

A well-executed Twitter account can speak volumes about an organisation: telling people that, through fast responses and even an ability to lighten the tone with customers, this is a company unafraid to drop committee-thinking and go eye-to-eye with their public online.

One of the busiest accounts in Northern Ireland, Translink’s six-year-old @translink_ni presence, can see as many as 3,600 tweets posted in a month and 2,9000 replies sent, using December 2015 as an example, by staff given the freedom to not just respond near-instantly but have some fun with customers along the way.

Translink’s road map to 41,600 “organic growth” followers in 2016 (the company has avoided things such as like and share competitions to be sure followers who are actual customers) makes for an interesting ‘how to’ for anyone who wonders how a large organisation sets about giving staff enough scope to make a difference quickly on Twitter while knowing their image is in safe hands.

Mo McCauley, Translink’s Social and eCommerce Manager, explained that some early trial and error brought about the Twitter account customers know today.

“With the emergence of social media we saw Twitter as the ideal medium for engaging with our customers with regard to keeping them up-to-date with real-time travel information.

“We started using social media in March 2010 and we did not have ‘dedicated’ staff to monitor/respond on our profiles until November 2013. These duties were left to staff that had a range of other duties to carry out, therefore the time, knowledge and training wasn’t there. This resulted in low engagement with followers. Content was mostly ‘pushing’ out messages and responses were very generic. This stunted our growth and popularity. Once ‘dedicated’ staff were in place improvements were evident almost straight away.”

Finding the right staff and the right level of supervision was an early hurdle and one Translink approached through picking staff who already had a good knowledge of the company’s work.

“Our Contact Centre Social Media Team was recruited from existing Contact Centre Agents who already had the important knowledge of Translink products, travel updates, fares, etc. Interviews were carried out before appointments were made. Staff chosen had a keen interest in social media (from personal use), this coupled with their prior Translink knowledge from being a Contact Centre Agent was a perfect match.

“The Social Media Manager is responsible for training and oversees all social media activity across the different platforms. We use the online dashboard Hootsuite for the monitoring of all social media e.g. staff permissions, teams, etc. are controlled within this which is maintained by the Social Media Manager. This ensures security and allows us to oversee the different teams.”

BANTER AND BUSES

The main @translink_ni account (if you tweet and receive a reply talking about transport in Canada you have the wrong account) has grown in followers by 45% since December 2014 and had 3.8m engagements in the month of December 2015.

The tone of the account – which includes staff knowing when to take a more serious tone despite encouraging and enjoying “banter” with followers – is something Mo is obviously proud of.

“Obviously we keep an eye on the accounts of other large public transport providers to see what we’re doing and we’re happy that we compare favourably. Our account actually got a mention in a national BBC online article on corporate Twitter accounts that were pitched at just the right tone!

“The Contact Centre Social Media Team was closely monitored for a six month period when originally setup to ensure the correct balance was achieved between humour and serious engagement. Gentle direction was given to the team (and continues to be) to grow their personality, but not to ‘overstep the mark’. This team’s personalities have certainly grown since setup in 2013.

“A lot of hours/days/weeks scouring through other company profiles helped us gauge the approach we wanted to take and what we thought would be the best for our followers. The follower reaction to our engagement and conversation give us great insight on what works best and what needs to be changed.

“For any new members coming into the teams a ‘training environment’ is used within Hootsuite, which means tweets require approval (by a senior member of the team or Manager) before being sent. This mechanism allows us to give good direction on content, voice and tone.

“Team members use images and emoticons to be more expressive in their tweets. We have just recently started to use gifs and their usage is dependent on what is happening on our network on any particular day, what is trending out there in Twittersphere or what is happening in the world in general.”

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Aside from @translink_ni a number of other Twitter accounts including @nirailways, @enterprisetrain, @translinkmetro are also used. The company has a presence on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Flicker with a total of 80,000 subscribers across all the platforms.

Mo hinted at forthcoming changes to the service but said the basic goal of the company’s social media use would remain.

“Our main goals are to engage with our customers, keep them updated with latest travel news for our rail and bus services as well as informing our customers of offers, company developments, charitable and sponsorship partnerships etc.

“There are a number of digital projects currently underway within Translink which should impact on our social media profiles, the content and information we have to offer. But our intention is to remain with the personal touch we currently offer.”

BEHIND THE SCENES

Mo described Translink’s Twitter account as a “multi-department and multi-site set-up” and said targets haven’t been set for how quickly replies should be sent.

“The main team for engaging with followers is within the Contact Centre. This environment is best suited for Twitter due to the 7 day a week operation and access to travel information, fares, etc. The team comprises of 3 dedicated staff members, who work on a rotational basis to cover the 7 day operation (one staff member on social media at one time).”

“The Translink Twitter account is staffed by the Social Media Team Mon-Fri 07:00 to 20:00 and Sat & Sun 08:00 to 18:00 (the same as the company’s Contact Centre opening hours). However, the Social Media Team in the Contact Centre tend to come in earlier on days when bad weather e.g. snow is forecast so they can be there for our followers.

“We don’t have a target as such for responses; our motto would be as soon as possible. We have an excellent Team and they take pride in responding to followers as quickly as possible, therefore no need to enforce any targets.”

An automatic feed for NI Railways – from a system called Nexus Alpha – sends out posts when trains are delayed or cancelled while Metro Control tweet out disruptions outside of Contact Centre opening hours (but do not reply) for Metro and if necessary Goldline and Ulsterbus.

The structure below shows how the Translink social media teams, working with a Strategy Team with three members, are set up.

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DOES IT WORK?
Mo gave examples of times when customers have welcomed the work, and tone, of her social media colleagues.

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Mo’s claim that the Social Media Team is “dedicated to the service they deliver” and that “ their hashtag #HappyToHelp is very genuine” has been bourne out by any dealings I have had (thanks Ciara!) with the account.

While the how and why of transport in Northern Ireland is often debated on Slugger O’Toole and elsewhere, it seems safe to assume that most if not all would welcome the way the company has taken to social media to provide a near-instant, and at times entertaining, personal point-of-contact for customers.

A welcome change from committee-thinking and corporate jargon, Mo’s team might not be able to make a delayed train appear any sooner but they’ll provide quick answers and as much information as can be found for customers while they wait.

  • Kronsteen

    A big journey for Translink and good luck to them.

    Their website, when it comes to booking a train, remains ludicrously complicated. It is the worst website I have the occasional misfortune to have to use. It is the worst website of its kind that I’ve ever seen. My heart sinks every time I need to visit it.

    Great tweets though.

  • I think the same website managed to get an extended mention on The Blame Game.

    However, I’ve genuinely found the people behind the Twitter account to be a pleasure to deal with – it can make all the difference as I reckon people have little patience for poor customer service these days.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I often twat Translink about their inexplicably late buses. They’re always courteous and helpful. I’m not.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    tweet. you mean tweet.

  • Lord Coleraine

    I do mean tweet. I am so sorry.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree…its utterly useless

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m sorry if I seem unduly negative but don’t care how “engaging” Translink manages to be with social media as on the ground it’s still traffic gridlock! There is somethng wrong with the system so “success” in media terms is only superficial spin.

    Also agree about Translink website,it’s impossible.

  • I see your point but fast access to the latest information is better than slow access to the latest information.

  • afghanistanbananastand

    If they would merely publish their timetables for consumption by services like Google Maps Transit, it would be greatly appreciated by many. Perhaps then, their appalling website shouldn’t be receiving half the traffic it currently does form benighted travelers trying to avail of their services.

    The blog entry below outlines the issue in some detail:

    http://andrewbolster.info/2014/05/translink-its-things-like-this-that-remind-me-why-you-suck-so-hard/

    How a public funded transit company can get away with this state of affairs in 2016 is beyond me.

  • Samantha Miller

    Twat is better. 😉