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Translink Buzzer Blog

Our Twitter pilot: a great success so far!

Update, February 11, 2011: Yay: our Twitter pilot has been permanently extended!

Update, February 1, 2011: The Twitter pilot has been extended to the end of February 2011! Things are looking positive for the indefinite extension of the pilot—stay tuned for more!

Update: Jan 10, 2011. Just wanted to post the reminder that the pilot is definitely continuing to the end of January—we continue to seek budget approval for keeping the program going indefinitely!

A photo of most of our Customer Information staff working on the Twitter pilot! (Some were a bit camera shy :) Photo by Charlotte Boychuk.

Well, as you may know, we launched a Twitter pilot in November 2010, ramping up service on our popular TransLink Twitter account (www.twitter.com/translink) to try and provide better service for everyone.

And thus far, we think the pilot is a great success—so successful that we’re continuing it through December!

It’s been pretty amazing: after one month, 1,100 more people are following our account, the mood in our call centre is phenomenal, and we keep hearing fantastic, continuous compliments from our Twitter followers. All this after adding one Customer Information Work Leader to each shift in November to focus on Twitter, subscription alerts, and trip planner alerts!

So now, we’re hoping to keep the pilot going indefinitely after December, but we’re just waiting to get full approval for our budget for the program. In the meantime, you can help show your support for the pilot by sharing your feedback in our Customer Feedback Form.

And for those who are interested, keep reading for a deep dive into the results of our pilot, and how we’ve found it’s working well so far.

We’re providing better, more frequent information to customers

Tweets sent monthly by the TransLink Twitter account throughout 2010.

The graph above shows the number of tweets sent by @translink every month, and just at a glance you can see we’ve pushed out much more information in November than we had in previous months.

In November 2010, we sent out 1,151 tweets, while October 2010 had just 278 tweets. That’s a 314% increase in messages!

(The graph’s exception of course, is the February Olympic period, when our staffing and information gathering was similar to the current Twitter pilot levels.)

Of course, increased volume doesn’t always mean better—especially as some people have pointed out that they don’t like any non-service focused tweets, such as the sign-in/sign-off messages.

But we can say generally that the quality of information overall has likely increased, due to a few factors:

  • We have staff consistently on the Twitter account from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. now, rather than more ad-hoc service delivered around 9-5 p.m.
  • The staff in Customer Information has much more direct access to information from our various control centres and the fine-grained details of our system.
  • They also have time to troubleshoot customer issues in real-time, and they can access the real-time bus tracking system to help them out. It’s been pretty amazing to see the Customer Information staff look up people’s bus stop numbers and advise them of any issues with bus routes coming their way!

Better, more frequent information has spilled over to our trip planner

Alerts entered into our Trip Planner in October and November 2010.

The Twitter pilot had a positive side effect for another part of our alert system: a vast increase in the “alerts” entered into our trip planner.

Alerts show up when you run a trip plan or look at a service schedule, telling you if there is an incident, reroute, or other info that may affect your trip.

Here is the comparison between October and November:

  • October 1 – 31: 673 external alerts entered
  • November 1 – 30: 1,963 external alerts entered—an increase of 1,290 alerts!

So not only were people getting better information through Twitter, those running trip plans had better information as well!

Julie Bailey, our manager of customer information services, noted that this development likely had roots in a few elements of the pilot in November:

  • The extra staff member on shift was able to focus on both Twitter and the entering of alerts.
  • And owing to Twitter’s character limitations, alerts are now short, to the point, and easier to enter into our system.

A great increase in our online audience

Our Twitter followers over the past 3 months.

Increasing our follower count is important, because we want to connect with as many interested customers as possible and help them access useful transit service information. A steady increase also indicates that customers are more or less finding our info valuable and worthy of subscribing to, which can be a good indicator of quality. It would be a very bad sign if our follower numbers were dropping over time!

During the November trial period, the TransLink Twitter account gained 1,140 followers, jumping from 3,883 fans on Oct 1 to 5023 fans by Nov 30—a gain of about 30%. This jump bested October’s growth (10%) and September’s growth (22%).

Obviously, the trial’s handy and helpful service updates could certainly be responsible for this. It could also be partly due to our decision to begin following our customers in November: we jumped from following 75 people on Nov 1 to 884 on Nov 30, which would have possibly put us on more people’s radar.

By the way, our new follower count puts our Twitter account’s reach at an estimated 255,950 possible users (that’s if you count up all our followers’ followers, although of course there will be some overlap, bots, and other exceptions, etc.) This number was guesstimated via TwitterAnalyzer.com :)

Demonstrated strong reach during poor conditions

Tweets sent by the TransLink Twitter account in November.

Twitter gives us a direct way to spread info to customers during inclement weather and other transit emergencies—as we’d seen previously during the Olympic period.

Retweets of the TransLink Twitter account's messages in the November 2010 pilot period. Click for a larger version!

During the pilot, this was clearly demonstrated during the cold snap around November 25, 2010. On that day, we saw a sharp spike in:

  • the number of tweets we sent out, indicating that we were pushing out more information about conditions to customers (about 75, when typically we send out 35 tweets daily)
  • the number of times people retweeted our messages, indicating people are spreading our info to their followers (we were retweeted 188 times during the cold weather; typically we get about 10-40 retweets daily)
  • the number of people mentioned @translink in their tweets, indicating lots of people were asking us questions and getting answers (we got 418 mentions that day, when typically we get about 50 mentions a day)
  • the number of people following us, indicating that @translink was a valuable source for information (we gained 393 followers that day, about 10 times the number of followers we gain on a regular day)

This is comparable to our Olympic experience, especially on the last day of the Games, February 28, when our transportation tweets received a similar spike. And now, the staffing of the current Twitter pilot increases our ability to manage and monitor these spikes, and use them to spread useful information to customers in need.

Positive feedback from our customers

There has been tremendous positive feedback to the pilot: we’ve received 56 commendations made publicly by other Twitter users, and 24 notes of support submitted via the TransLink customer feedback form.

Here’s some examples of the lovely things we’ve heard:

  • The Twitter pilot i.e. responsive tweets, is the most awesome thing Translink has ever done … EVAR! =) *hugs to the updaters* (samjane)
  • I LOVE that you’re tweeting these types of notices for AWOL buses! Yay for more customer service and less wondering! (ChristaGiles)
  • Awesome job you guys have been doing on Twitter in the last few weeks in particular. Cheers! (Clippernolan)
  • hope it becomes permanent. Its become soo useful and changed the way many ppl view Translink, for the better. (kimc555)

A great experience for our staff!

Another fantastic side effect has been a huge increase in morale in our call centre. I asked our Customer Information staff to put something together for the blog, and here it is, in their own words…

When we found out about the opportunity for Customer Information Work Leaders to add Twitter to our daily activities, there were mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement. The anxiety simply came from the fact that most of us were aware of Twitter, but had never seen and/or used the social media platform. We were definitely excited to learn more and see what kind of impact could we make.

“Now I feel more confident in responding to the public about specific issues that pertain to one specific person or to everyone.” – Debbie

We’ve learned a lot more about how well different departments within TransLink can work together & how that has a positive impact on our approach to service to our customers. The feedback from the CI Clerks has been very positive, with the general feeling like they’re getting even more support from the Work Leaders, which in turn ensure our customers are receiving better care.

“We get information faster, which reduces the Clerks amount of questions for support” – Julie

“I’ve only had my cell phone for a year and just started texting. Twitter has really opened my eyes!” – Ron

“We have been constantly asking each other questions, exchanging ideas & sharing workloads.” – Jason

We are over the moon about the pilot being extended! We’re at 5000+ followers and counting, and being given the opportunity to carry on with the Twitter pilot for one more month has added even more wind to our sails to try and improve on what we’ve learned so far. In fact when we sent a tweet out on November 30 letting the public know about the extension, the tweets came in like crazy! Every one of them extremely upbeat about the news; some even noticeably worried about it ending!

“I’m so thankful that our department has been given this chance to provide even better service to our customers by utilizing a great communication resource like Twitter to send out the latest news, updates and event information every day!” – Jason

“I’m feeling even more comfortable & relaxed using Twitter now.” – Ron

That’s all for now…

In case you’re wondering the stats for this evaluation came from Twittercounter and TweetStats: both very helpful sites!

And those are our results from the Twitter pilot so far! I think it’s demonstrated great value so far and has a great future ahead. Feel free to share your comments below :)


15 Comments

  • By Nicholas, December 8, 2010 @ 7:47 pm

    Hooray! :)

    The timing of this pilot project was perfect for those days of snowfall that we had earlier. I would really like to see this stay!

  • By ;-), December 8, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

    And the key thing is you don’t need to open a twitter account to see the tweets….. I just bookmark my mobile browser to
    http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/61617150.rss

  • By Sally, December 8, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    Wow, awesome results! Good job, Translink! The thing I like is being able to tweet direct to Translink any problems on my route I *think* they may not know about (but they usually do!).

  • By SL, December 8, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    I love the Twitter updates! I’m a daily transit user and it’s nice to be able to pull out the phone when I’m waiting for a bus or train that never came, to get an update on what’s happening down the street! Knowing the bus is redirected because of a fire, for example, I’d be less frustrated for the extra wait time!

    Hope this becomes permanent!

  • By Brendan, December 9, 2010 @ 12:24 am

    This is a great post / analysis, and I’m also loving the tweets!! Convenient (already checking Twitter), and personalized service from TransLink. Keep it up. :)

  • By Tim Choi, December 9, 2010 @ 5:05 am

    Oh if only the Istanbul transit authorities did anything like this…*sigh*

    It’s been a lot of fun following the tweets from over here on the other side of the globe! Sometimes I relay the info to my Facebook statuses to alert my friends back home, and they’re always appreciative of how they can receive news faster from me in Istanbul than from, say, the news networks or SFU, haha.

    Here’s to its continuation in January!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, December 9, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    Glad it’s working well for everyone! And yes, as ;-) points out, you don’t need to be a Twitter subscriber to follow along: the RSS feed can be grabbed as well.

    Btw, Sally: initially you had said there were too many tweets on the account and you’ve unfollowed. Do you still think there’s too many tweets there? After looking at the numbers, the first day of Nov 1 had like 80+ tweets, but we seem to have settled into a pattern of about 30-ish tweets a day.

  • By Bryn, December 9, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    Back when the new TMAC system was coming out there was quite a lot of talk about giving customers much more relevant information – a big thing was getting systems like Next Bus tied in so they were giving a real ETA time (not just schedule info), talk about Smart Phone apps showing bus locations, etc.

    None of this seems to have come to light? Does TransLink have any plans to ever get customer facing things like that together? About the closest thing is the Next Bus display screens on Main Street. In an ideal world I’d love to just call up that info on my smart phone at ANY bus stop, given that TMAC already has all the data.

    Having a Twitter account is great, but it can be very hard to filter out the relevant information from the noise – 1,153 messages in a month is probably more than all the other people I follow on Twitter combined. Really I’m only going to want to know about one or two bus routes in a day.

    It probably wouldn’t hurt to have the Twitter feeds divided up a bit – IE a few different accounts that target specific areas. For instance a UBC student probably wants to know about Broadway reroutes, but may not really care about what is happening up SFU. If there were a selection of regional accounts – Burnaby, Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, etc that someone could choose to follow that would probably help filter things out quite a bit. So someone who say works in Richmond and commutes from Burnaby could just follow those two regions.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, December 9, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    Bryn: Real-time data is definitely still in the works and we still do plan to put it out through our mobile sites and the Next Bus service, and for open data. However, the project timeline to convert the data to a usable format and to make it reliable is currently slated for late 2011. Which is yes, kind of a long time away, but we are definitely working on it!

    Are you finding personally that you would prefer to have separate accounts for each region or just that you think it would be a good idea in general? From the backend, the challenge for us on those fronts is largely workflow—CI staff would have to monitor/feed multiple accounts instead of 1, which might make things a bit more difficult.

    The other thing is that Twitter isn’t meant to be our only channel for alerts info. For specific routes, you can subscribe to customized alerts and just get the info about what you’re interested in. As mentioned above, those subscription alerts are getting way more info owing to the Twitter pilot, so you should be just as up to date, and only on the routes you have subscribed to.

  • By ;-), December 9, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

    Fyi… That RSS is hot! I’m now occassionally getting this error message.

    Rate limit exceeded. Clients may not make more than 150 requests per hour. /statuses/user_timeline/61617150.rss

  • By Allison, December 11, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

    I love the translink twitter feed!!!

    Now if you guys could make your iPhone app better, that would be fabulous. :) If anyone had iBus Van (which I can’t seem to get anymore), that was a wicked app. I could search bus routes, and then they would display. It loaded quickly (I can load the translink app in the same amount of time it takes me to walk to my bus stop, about 3 minutes, which is far far far too long and completely useless). Also, just showing the stop number when you’re searching for nearby stops is really unhelpful unless you’re standing underneath the sign. And indicating which direction the bus you’re searching for is headed is a MUST. Is there a place I can send my feedback for the app?

    I hope you will integrate real-time bus tracking into the app. It’s really helpful to know where my bus is and whether I need to book it to my stop or not. :)

    I like having all the translink alerts on one place. It takes 2 milliseconds to scan and scroll past the ones you don’t care about (or skip them all together if you’re not transiting that day). You could add tags for parts of the city.

    Cheers!!

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Buzzer blog » Heads up: TransLink’s Twitter pilot project for November 2010 — December 8, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

  2. Tweets that mention Our Twitter pilot: a great success so far! -- Topsy.com — December 8, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  3. The Buzzer blog » Heads up: the Twitter pilot will continue to the end of January 2011 — January 5, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  4. The Buzzer blog » Yay: our TransLink Twitter service is now permanent! — February 11, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

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