Nobody likes your chipper “goodnight” tweets, New Jersey Transit.
That was one of the takeaways of a $1.3 million audit, released this week, that assesses the problems and potential solutions facing New Jersey Transit, the commuter rail system that has grappled with safety, reliability, and financial issue for the last several years.
The wide-ranging, 166-page report penned by the consulting firm North Highland is largely focused on issues of critical importance to the transit agency, systemic challenges related to infrastructure and the long-term funding of the system.
But the report also includes advice on how NJ Transit can better represent itself on social media — advice that could be applicable to most any transit agency faced with the deluge of angry missives from riders that typically follows a major service disruption or unexpected delay.
The report included some harsh words on NJ Transit’s current state of affairs when it comes to social media engagement.
"The overall experience [on Facebook] is unengaging and bordering on negative,” the report said. They pointed to situations where over-reliance on jargon like “positive train control” and generic safety messages made the transit agency seemed soulless ... and allowed a space for riders to swoop in and add their own negativity.
“Facebook can be a perilous channel for some organizations, and this is especially true for transit authorities as they can often be shot down with angry comments as they try to engage the public,” the report said. “A key use of Facebook as opposed to other channels is to try to humanize a brand and build a rapport with customers.”
The report concluded that things were better, but still troubled, on Twitter.
“Maintaining an active presence on Twitter can be a challenging task with a lot of vitriol thrown back at social media employees,” the report said. “However, they could make their lives easier by crafting a more helpful message at times.”
Case in point? A daily 8 p.m. sign-off, where the customer service representatives manning the Twitter account announced that they would not be responding to messages until the next morning.
“On a daily basis they sign off at 8pm and wish everyone a good night. This is guaranteed to rile customers who aren’t having a pleasant commute,” the consultants pointed out. “Instead this message should call out the fact that this team’s shift is finishing but that NJ Transit can be contacted via other channels.”
And perhaps the best digital forum to interact with riders is Instagram, the audit declared — largely because people aren’t quite so negative as they are on Facebook or Twitter.
“Instagram has become increasingly popular due to the fact that most of the content on the network is trying to create a positive experience. While the NJ Transit Instagram channel has some negative comments the ratio of positive to negative is a lot better than other channels," the report said.
The fact that a sizable section within the chunky report is focused on social media highlights the fact that, more and more, transit systems are having to think critically about how to straddle the competing desires to be informative, entertaining, tactful, and honest.
Back in 2016, a social media representative at San Francisco’s BART system was widely hailed for a tweet about the underlying problems contributing to a day of particularly poor service on the transit system.
“This is our reality,” BART declared.