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7 This chapter presents an overview of social media, based pri- marily on findings from the literature review. It includes a brief description of social media, highlights how government uses social media, presents the demographics of social media users, and describes approaches to measuring the impacts of these applications. What are Social Media? Social media is a term that refers to a number of web-based applications through which users interact with one another. Interactivity is what distinguishes social networking sites from traditional (or âstaticâ) websites. Social media applica- tions encourage users to share their experiences, opinions, knowledge, and sometimes their locations. These connections can contribute to a sense of engagement or loyalty among social media users. Figure 2 compares the characteristics of traditional media and social media. As the figure shows, traditional media approaches are centralized and focus on delivering one or more messages to customers. Social media methods are collaborative and rely on sharing information and soliciting feedback for their effectiveness. Using traditional mediaâdistributing press releases, granting interviews, etc.â the organization tries to control the message. Using social media, such as YouTube and Twitter, organizations can post information that individuals can share, comment on, and sometimes modify (1). Following are examples of social media platforms commonly used by transit agencies. All quotations from social media sites were accessed from public posts between July 2010 and June 2011. Sources include www.facebook.com, www.twitter.com, and www.youtube.com. Spelling and typographical errors were corrected. â¢ Blogs, or web logs, where individuals or organizations post commentary or news, frequently on a particular topic, and often invite comments and feedback. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Author- ity (LA Metro) publishes a daily blog called The Source to provide news and stories of interest to its riders; El Pasajero is the agencyâs companion Spanish-language blog. â¢ Social and professional networking sites that encour- age members to connect with one another, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and GovLoop. Many transit properties maintain a Facebook page to provide service information and updates, including LANTA, DART, and Community Transit in Everett, Washington. â¢ Micro-blogging sites, primarily Twitter, which allow users to post comments and web links in a format limited to 140 characters. Some transit agencies, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Author- ity (WMATA), find Twitter especially well suited for providing real-time service updates, while Vancouverâs TransLink uses the platform to provide customer service. â¢ Media- and document-sharing sites where members post and share video clips (YouTube), documents (Scribd), and photographs (Flickr). DART makes exten- sive use of YouTube to build community support for its services, whereas MTA maintains an image library on Flickr for media use. LA Metroâs Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive maintains a collec- tion of historic planning documents on Scribd. â¢ Geolocation applications, such as Foursquare, enable users to share their location with other members of their social network and to earn virtual âbadgesâ for checking into sites. Both BART and TransLink have collaborated with Foursquare to develop transit-specific badges for their riders. A glossary of social media terms can be found at the end of this report. GovernMent USe of Social Media Transit agencies are not alone in their use of social media. Agencies and officials at all levels of government, from city hall to the White House, use social media. According to the Human Capital Institute, 66% of government agencies used some form of social networking in 2009, and 65% of those used more than one tool. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter were the most commonly used web-based tools among these agencies (2). The Urban Transportation Monitor surveyed transporta- tion organizations about their use of social media (3). Asked what social media platforms they used, about half of the UTM respondents named Facebook (54%) and Twitter (51%); 37% used YouTube. Just over half (51%) said they used another application. Twitter was most commonly used for brief communications and service updates. Facebook was used for announcements and service updates, but also for meet- ing notices, community-building, and branding. YouTube videos covered a wide range of topics, including how-to-ride chapter two literatUre revieW: overvieW of Social Media
8 Officials from the 43 organizations responding to the UTM survey cited multiple reasons for using social media. Survey responses included: (1) engaging customers at a low cost to the agency; (2) keeping stakeholders up to date about service issues, planning, and other time-sensitive informa- tion; (3) allowing customers to bypass agency bureaucracy; (4) making the agency appear more âhipâ when communicat- ing with a large student population; and (5) reaching people where they are already communicating rather than requiring them to visit the agency website for information. Among transit agencies, reasons for using social media typically fall into five broad categories, which are summarized here. Figure 3 illustrates some examples. timely Updates Social media provide agencies with an unparalleled oppor- tunity to share information with their customers, often in real-time. Twitter is exceptionally well suited to providing service alerts, and many transit operators use it for this purpose. Blogs and Facebook also allow organizations to update readers about a board meeting, a fare increase, or a new route. For example, the Toronto Transit Commission uses Twitter to relay service updates, whereas MTA uses Twitter to remind the public about scheduled board meetings and to direct them to a live webcast. Public information Many transit organizations use social media to provide general information about services, fares, and long-range planning projects. For example, the Regional Transportation Commis- sion of Southern Nevada posted a YouTube video to showcase the features of its new fleet of double-decker buses, and the Utah Transit Authority is one of several agencies to use social media to highlight local destinations and events that can be reached by transit. At the federal level, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and his Fast Lane blog to provide information about department initiatives; periodically he answers constituent questions about federal transportation policy through YouTube. LA Metro sets up Facebook pages for specific long-range projects and sends out live tweets during public meetings. citizen engagement Transportation organizations have taken advantage of the interactive aspects of social media to connect with their cus- tomers in an informal way. These connections can take many forms, but the goals are the same: to reach out to riders and stakeholders and to build support. For example, TransLink ini- tially used Facebook to engage its riders in a contest to name the agencyâs new fare card, and Metro Transit St. Louis posts photographs of community events, such as a bus-painting day at a local elementary school, on its Flickr page. information, project updates, agency promotions, and agency stories and testimonials. Organizations used blogs to promote more in-depth discussion, while LinkedIn was used for net- working and recruiting purposes. Why USe Social Media? HCI reports that government agencies at the state, federal, and local levels use social networking for a wide range of pur- poses, including employee learning and development (44%), communications and public relations (44%), recruiting (38%), and support functions such as human relations, training, and finance (35%). The National Association of State Chief Infor- mation Officers (NASCIO) surveyed U.S. states and territo- ries about their use of social media (4). Among 43 agencies responding to the survey, the primary reasons for using social media cited include citizen engagement (98%) and public information and outreach (93%). More than half of the agen- cies responding also selected open government (67%) and business engagement (54%) as important goals. NASCIOâs survey indicated that many government organizations rou- tinely use social media for public safety and emergency noti- fications, although the survey did not specifically cover this application. A survey conducted for FHWA had similar find- ings (5). State departments of transportation reported using Web 2.0 technologies to provide information and to build communities around transportation issues. A few agencies also used collaborative Web 2.0 apps such as mashups, wikis, Sharepoint sites, Google groups, and Google documents for planning and administration. FIGURE 2 Comparison of traditional media and social media. Source: Funk/Levis & Associates.
9 employee recognition Some organizations use social networking for recognizing employees and recruiting new hires. In Virginia, Hampton Roads Transit set up a LinkedIn site that allows current employees to connect with one another and enables potential employees to learn more about the organization, whereas Tulsa Transit has used Twitter to announce job openings. In Texas, the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Author- ity used Facebook to recognize a long-time employee on his retirement, and DART has created a series of videos for its YouTube channel that feature interviews with agency staff. entertainment Lastly, social media can be fun. Agencies often use social media to put a human face on what can sometimes seem like an impenetrable bureaucracy, and they entertain their riders through songs, videos, and contests. New Yorkâs Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), among other agencies, uses YouTube to share safety information. LIRRâs The Gap Rap is a music video starring in-house talent and local fifth-graders that reminds rid- ers to âWatch the gapâ when boarding or alighting trains; in a similar vein, the Transit Authority of River City posted a rap video to show Louisville bus riders how to use a bicycle rack. FIGURE 3 Examples of transit-related social media sites.
10 characteriSticS of Social Media USerS The characteristics of social media users are not yet well docu- mented and questions remain about whether social media plat- forms can bridge the digital divide, or the gap between people who have access to information technology (IT) and those who do not. Although not conclusive, research suggests that social media attract users from multiple demographic categories, as summarized here. age and Gender In 2010, 61% of online Americans used social networking sites (e.g., Facebook and LinkedIn)âup from 46% just the year beforeâand 17% used Twitter. Although the vast major- ity of adults aged 18 to 29 were social networkers (86%), so were nearly half of those aged 50 to 64 (47%) and one-quarter of those 65 and over (26%). Moreover, older users are out- pacing younger adults in their adoption of social media. The number of Internet users aged 50 to 64 who used a social net- working site grew 88% between 2009 and 2010, and the num- ber of users aged 65 or over doubled. In contrast, the growth rate for those aged 18 to 29 was 13% (6). Although part of the rapid growth rate for older users can be attributed to their smaller representation in the social space, this trend is still noteworthy. Consistent with these findings, nearly half of Americans maintained a personal profile on at least one social networking site in 2010, which was double the proportion recorded just two years earlier. More than three of four teenagers and adults aged 18 to 24 had an online personal profile in 2010, as did 13% of those aged 65 and over (7) (see Figure 4). Based on statistics compiled for 19 social networking sites, the average social networker is 37 years old; adults aged 35 to 44 make up the single largest group of social networkers (25% of site visitors). Adults 45 to 54 and 25 to 34 are also major online networkers, comprising 19% and 18% of site visitors, respec- tively (see Figure 5). Age distribution varies by site and tends to reflect each platformâs target market. The average Facebook user is said to be 38 years old and the average Twitter user is 39 years old. Business-oriented LinkedIn attracts older users, with an average age of 44, and sites such as MySpace appeal to younger visitors (average age is 31 years old) (8). Most social networking sites have more female users than male users. Based on the same 19 social networking sites, the audience is 53% female and 47% male. On average, Twitter has 59% female users and Facebook has 57% (9). However, it should be noted that these estimates are based on proprietary sources and no information is available about the methodology used. Because social media sites do not generally require proof of identity beyond a valid e-mail address, account holders may not always be truthful about characteristics such as age and gender. Indeed, they may not be persons at all. As social media use expands to advocacy, FIGURE 4 Percent by age group with a profile on a social networking site, 2008â2010 (7 ).
11 marketing, and entertainment, account holders may include organizations, family pets, and automated spambots. race and ethnicity A recent study from the Pew Research Center looked at Internet access by race and ethnicity (10). According to the study, 59% of Americans now use wireless technology such as a laptop or cell phone to access the Internet, up from 51% a year before, and minority Americans (defined by Pew Center researchers as AfricanâAmericans and English-speaking Hispanics) are outpacing Caucasian Americans in their mobile access. As Table 1 shows, nearly two-thirds of AfricanâAmericans (64%) and Hispanics (63%) are wireless Internet users, and minority Americans are more likely to own a cell phone than their white counterparts (87% of blacks and Hispanics own a cell phone, compared with 80% of whites). Additionally, black and Hispanic cell phone owners take advantage of a much wider array of their phonesâ data functions compared FIGURE 5 Age distribution across 19 social networking sites, 2010 (8). TABLE 1 USE OF MOBILE DATA APPLICATIONS BY POPULATION GROUP, 2010 Source: Smith (10). Activity A ll Adults White, Non- Hispanic A fricanâ American, Non-Hispanic Hispanic (English- speaking) Own a Cell Phone 82% 80% 87% 87% Activities among Adults with a Cell Phone: Take a picture 76% 75% 76% 83% Send/receive text messages 72% 68% 79% 83% Access the Internet 38% 33% 46% 51% Send/receive email 34% 30% 41% 47% Play a game 34% 29% 51% 46% Record a video 34% 29% 48% 45% Play music 33% 26% 52% 49% Send/receive instant messages 30% 23% 44% 49% Use a social networking site 23% 19% 33% 36% Watch a video 20% 15% 27% 33% Post a photo or video online 15% 13% 20% 25% Purchase a product 11% 10% 13% 18% Use a status update service 10% 8% 13% 15% M ean number of cell phone activities 4.3 3.8 5.4 5.8
12 with white cell phone owners. Although cell phone use is not by itself an indicator of social media use, both Africanâ Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to use cell phones to access the Internet, send and receive text messages, and access a social networking website (10). Less information is available about other demographic groups. For example, the Pew Center does not include Asians and Pacific Islanders in its standard demographic breakdowns because of their smaller representation in the U.S. popula- tion and, in some cases, the language barriers associated with interviewing these individuals (11). While this information suggests that most U.S. adults have access to the Internet, it also highlights a new potential issue for public agencies. While smart phones have made the Internet more accessible, and some even offer integration with social media applications, they pose their own usability challenges. When users access the Internet exclusively by cell phone, no matter how smart or sophisticated the device, they may not have access to all features of a website or application. Another Pew study focuses on use of government social media sites (12). Although the proportion of Americans who interact with government agencies using social media sites is small, there is little difference among the three major ethnic and racial groups. Despite similar levels of activity, however, minority Americans are more likely than white Americans to believe that government use of electronic communications helps keep citizens informed and makes agencies more accessible. There was an especially large gap in attitudes toward government use of social media. Only 17% of white Americans said it was âvery importantâ for government agencies to post information and alerts on social networks, compared to 31% of blacks and 33% of Hispanics (see Figure 6). education and income The same Pew study also showed that individuals with more education and higher household incomes were more likely to use online government services. Although the study did not highlight social media specifically, it did ask respondents whether they used tools such as blogs, e-mails, or text messages to obtain government information. Some 24% of respondents with an annual household income under $50,000 used these tools, compared with 39% of those with higher incomes. Similarly, 21% of those with a high school degree or less education accessed government information with these tools, compared to 36% of those who attended at least some college. At a minimum, these findings suggest the need for additional research on the correlation between social networking and factors such as wealth and education (12). Social Media MetricS The science of measuring social media use is still evolv- ing. Many platforms provide some level of built-in statis- tics. For example, Facebook counts âfriendsâ and âlikes,â FIGURE 6 Percentage within each group saying it is âvery importantâ for government agencies to do the above by ethnic group (12).
13 Twitter tracks followers and âtweets,â blogging software can count subscribers and impressions, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr track views. These applications also provide account holders with additional tools for more detailed analysis, such as Facebook Insights and YouTube Insight. For example, Facebook Insights tracks the number of views for a post. By comparing impressions for each post, users can learn which topics resonate with their Facebook followers. In addition to these prepackaged statistics, numer- ous free and fee-based third-party applications are available for gaining additional insight into the effectiveness of social media activities. Google Analytics, for example, is primarily used for analyzing website visits; however, this free tool also enables agencies to analyze how visitors navigate to their website (including referrals from one or more social media platforms) and what kind of information they are looking for (through search-engine keywords). By drilling down a little further into the collected statistics, agencies can learn what pages on their website are most popular among these visitors, where these readers live (city, state, and country), length of visit, and other useful characteristics. Especially common for use with Twitter, where the length of posts is constrained, link shorteners take a long web address and condense it into a short version for easier posting and forwarding. Many of these services allow users to track the number of times read- ers click on the shortened link, which allows organizations to determine what links are popular and which are not. Finally, Klout is one of several applications that calculate a compos- ite score to represent a userâs social media influence, based on metrics compiled for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (13, 14). Some industry experts call for more sophisticated analy- sis, but this can require an investment in analytic software. Owyang and Lovett argue that simply collecting data without further analysis does not allow organizations to draw mean- ingful conclusions (15). For example, they say that it is not enough to track number of blog comments. Instead, orga- nizations could track âaudience engagement,â which they define as the ratio of total comments, shares, and trackbacks to total views. In other words, what percentage of viewers is taking some kind of actionâeither commenting on an online post, forwarding it to someone else (âsharesâ), or provid- ing a link back to the post from their own social media site (âtrackbacksâ)? Although the advice is geared toward private businesses that have the resources to purchase sophisticated software, the message applies to transit organizations as well. Counting without context does not create a complete picture of social media effectiveness. Most of the agencies surveyed for this study reported attempting in some way to analyze the effectiveness of their social media strategies. Most relied on informal feedback (94% of reporting agencies) or tracked the number of fol- lowers using built-in application statistics (91%). Just over half (56%) used third-party statistical applications such as Google Analytics and about 10% conducted surveys.