is social media right for public transport operators?

At mhd we're quite partial to a bit of social media of an evening (and lunch hour to be honest), and so are lots of our friends. It's great.

We all follow people, subjects and brands that interest us - celebrities, sports people, actors, musicians, television shows, hobbies, friends etc.

To help with their daily commute, some of our friends even follow their local bus/train/tram company. As they know where we work and the clients mhd works with, we often get quizzed as to why transport companies don't make their social media messaging service specific.

Why does Neil get updates on all Northern Rail's services when he only ever catches the train from Huddersfield? Likewise, Judy wants to know why she has to receive tweets on all buses from Nottingham City Transport, when, day in day out, she only gets the 17 to the hospital?

Well, because it would be virtually impossible to have a Twitter/Facebook feed for every service you operate. Right?

So unless you're a heavy Twitter/Facebook user or you spend time looking for your service, you'll probably miss an important update on your service anyway.

Surely service updates are better off served to the customer and personalised for them? This could be done via your website, SMS text messaging or via an app that customers can subscribe to and then pops up alerts when their service is late or held up etc. Most importantly, you don't have to go looking for it, it's a transmission.

So far, we're not aware of any companies offering services like this. Are we wrong? Let us know!

Which brings us onto the other big downside of social media - complaints, negative feedback and the general slagging off of public transport companies.

Of all the transport companies we follow, about 90% of all tweets and comments seem to be people moaning and about the service. And they're there, in public, for all to see!

You wouldn't put all the letters of complaint you recieve on your website, so why have them on Facebook/Twitter? This just adds to the negative stigma attached to public transport that we are all constantly trying to fight against.

Let's face it, in the real world nobody ever tweets to say 'Hey my bus was on time today!'. Nobody comments on Facebook saying 'Lovely clean bus on the way to work this morning' (unless they are being ironic). Why would they? It should be.

We know getting real-time information to your customers is vital. But make it relevant. Don't make them look for it. Keep it private.

Most of your customers don't want to 'engage' with a bus or train company. They're too busy with their day-to-day life. They just want their service on time, clean, politely staffed and good value.

Have you ever wondered why the biggest, most profitable brand in the world - Apple, isn't on Facebook or Twitter and disables comments on their YouTube videos? Because they believe in power of traditional media, with all complaints and 'customer engagement' kept private.

So have a think. Is social media actually a benefit to your business or is it more of a hinderance using up valuable resources that could be used in a better way?