Full disclosure: I ran and continue to run an unofficial transit Twitter account pertaining to transit in hamilton (@HSRTransit).
Social media isn’t hard by any means. While it’s not just logging in and sending out updates, it’s not hard to get it right. Some retail brands have an amazing social media presence thanks to the talented minds behind their Twitter handles. They not only send out tweets and answer questions in the social media landscape, but these professionals help propel and promote the brand. For a national company or a well known brand social media has become almost as important as traditional marketing methods.
For the City of Hamilton the much touted launch of the @HSR on Twitter was welcomed and celebrated when it went online late last year, if not mildly criticized for being years late.
In the hands of Ryan Strang the account was promptly filled with information, humour, history, and character. Strang ran the account all day, every day, well beyond the official posted hours. His smartphone allowed him to connect with information from dispatch and tweet out information at all times of the day. Late night, early morning, and on weekends.
But since Strang’s departure earlier in the year the account has fallen into disrepute.
The bones of the account are there but the soul is gone.
The @HSR account still tweets out detour information and missed bus details, but often these are ‘bare bones’ and leave much to be desired. Planned detours are typically initially tweeted with a map of the detour, but then subsequent later tweets about the detours are often sent out sans map. Copied and pasted and sent out as a scheduled tweet.
A good example of this happened just this past Saturday.
75% of active HSR routes were being detoured through four different parts of the city due to Remembrance Day ceremonies. Despite this there was only a single tweet from @HSR about the detours. This scheduled tweet provided no information about impacted routes, detour times, or maps of the detours. Topping off the lackluster effort, the link provided in this lone tweet was broken and didn’t work. So with 22 of 30 active bus routes being detoured throughout the city there was zero transit information provided by the City of Hamilton during the events.
The account makes use of scheduled tweets to give the illusion that the account is still being manned after hours. With the exception of “good morning” and “signing off” tweets the account is ostensibly unmanned during the off hours. The occasional tweet for a missed bus, unplanned detour, or other issue might pop up, but try and interact with the account and you’ll only receive stonewalled silence. Either the warm body operating the account has been told not to provide customer service, doesn’t have the information available, or has other duties with the Twitter account taking a back seat.
Social media has quickly become the go-to for a great number of people for customer service inquiries. Even before using the telephone to call for information, many will check Twitter for information. They will also reach out on Twitter for information.
The TTC in Toronto is a good example of doing it right. The transit agency has two Twitter accounts, one for notices and another for customer service. Tagging @TTChelps with a question will usually get you a prompt reply, even into the late hours of the evening.
A large number of tweets to @HSR go unanswered, many of them very simple inquiries.
A great example of this happened on Sunday afternoon where someone tweeted a question to @HSR asking if there was holiday service planned for Monday. A great question and a valid concern with some government agencies and banks observing Remembrance Day on the Monday and staying closed. There was no reply to this question from the HSR’s account. In fact there were exactly four tweets from the account on Sunday. A scheduled tweet at 7:30am about a detour that day, a good morning tweet at 8:30am, a scheduled tweet promoting an accessibility meeting at 9:30am, and finally a ‘signing off’ tweet at 5:58pm.
Not one question was answered from the official HSR Twitter account during the course of the day.
With all of the issues and troubles besieging the Hamilton Street Railway at the moment the social media account should be an easy win and should be better utilized. Come on, HSR. Do better.