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Our Twitter pilot: a great success so far!

Update, February 11, 2011: Yay: our Twitter pilot has been permanently extended [1]!

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 [2], ramping up service on our popular TransLink Twitter account (www.twitter.com/translink [3]) 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 [4].

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:

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:

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:

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 [6] :)

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:

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 [7])
  • I LOVE that you’re tweeting these types of notices for AWOL buses! Yay for more customer service and less wondering! (ChristaGiles [8])
  • Awesome job you guys have been doing on Twitter in the last few weeks in particular. Cheers! (Clippernolan [9])
  • hope it becomes permanent. Its become soo useful and changed the way many ppl view Translink, for the better. (kimc555 [10])

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 [11] and TweetStats [12]: 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 :)