Transport for London (TfL) is the government body which looks after most of the public transport available in London (e.g. the Tube, buses, Overground, trams etc), as well as the roads and the Oyster card system. It began in January 1863, and one of the most important elements of their company in this modern era is to tell users how the services are running and whether there are any problems – traffic, delays etc – as well as answering any questions or comments that users may have. It’s an extremely customer orientated organisation – they’re here to serve the public and also ensure that they give the public a good quality service.
According to mrs.org.uk, TfL started using social media (to broadcast) in 2009, with real-time updates being sent out from February 2012. One month later, Oyster card customer service on social media was unveiled, with real-time feeds for lines and services rolled out from May 2012. They now have feeds that cover each tube line and service, as well as a number of customer service feeds.
I wanted to explore all the social feeds of TfL and see whether, especially with the recent tube strikes, they are using it to their full potential and delivering the necessary level of customer service expected from an organisation the size of this. Let’s go underground and see…
On Facebook, TfL only have around 285,000 likes, with over a million people checked in to the page (even though there is no address registered to the page). Their header shows a smiling group of team members at one of their overground stations – which makes for a very welcoming image as you enter the page. They’ve made full use of the call-to-action function which Facebook recently introduced by linking to a YouTube video explaining what TfL do:
In terms of content, they share a real variety of types – including photos, videos and links. Some of their updates including highlighting certain members of staff, such as Jean who manned a gate at Bank station for 8 years:
TfL also regularly run competitions – and announce the winners on social media:
However, they’ve missed a trick here: one of the most important elements of Facebook is the ability to tag other pages in captions. Here, they had the opportunity to mention two different pages (there is no unified page for the Emirates Air Line):
This would allow the other pages (and most likely sponsors) to see the post and share on their own pages. If you can tag – make the most of it.
Also, like the previous image, there’s positive comments (“Well-done, boys!” etc) and the odd negative “Is this the least-used station in London?”. Sentiment towards TfL seems to be a 50/50 result currently.
When it comes to imagery and photos, TfL use them in abundance – with regular albums/collections and a photo with almost every link update – and it’s been shown many times that images help you to get more clickthroughs on links. Hashtags are added onto updates as well to ensure that any searches or content gets found by a wider audience.
TfL use videos to promote upcoming schemes and announce news – with these videos reaching a few thousand views each:
Alongside status updates about service problems (such as the recent tube strikes), TfL do not engage with any commenters, and have the ‘post to page’ option switched off. It feels that Facebook is more of a broadcasting channel – they will send up updates about the service, or promote any upcoming changes. There’s no community managers – and no interaction between TfL and the customer. I suppose that’s what their Twitter feeds are for…
TfL have all their Twitter accounts listed on their website, which is always a good start. As I mentioned previously, TfL have a very obvious social strategy – Facebook is for promotion/news and Twitter is for customer service. The main corporate account is – you guessed it – @TfL and they use this to promote news and updates:
Cycling this morning? Take care as roads are likely to be busy. Remember to check you’re not in a vehicles blind spot http://t.co/9Teywb9z37
— Transport for London (@TfL) August 6, 2015
Any tweets sent to this account asking for help or with comments usually get picked up by other accounts (such as the @TflTravelAlerts account), like this tweet from Jade:
@JadeGo1 Hi, I've spoken to the station supervisor who advised that nothing has been handed in to lost property. Pls use the following 1/2
— TfL Travel Alerts (@TfLTravelAlerts) August 1, 2015
However, some tweets do go unanswered, such as this one by Hassan about the Hammersmith & City line:
This tweet by Mark also does not get a reply – even though it’s about ticket prices:
— Mark Cookson (@Abstractharmony) July 31, 2015
I also wanted to look at the sentiment of tweets sent to @TfL – and it seems to be mostly positive, with a lot using words such as excited and happy:
Similar to Facebook, however, there are a lot of people who share negative comments – using words like upset or sad. If TfL want to work on ensuring their brand is always seen in a positive light, they need to take a hold of the conversation and ensure that all problems and questions are handled in a professional manner. Ignoring problems or complaints doesn’t help anyone, especially them.
Alongside the main account, and the alerts account, TfL have a Twitter account for each line (followers correct as of 11th August):
- Bakerloo line (@bakerlooline) – 31.3k followers
- Central line (@centralline) – 80.3k followers
- Circle line (@circleline) – 30.9k followers
- District line (@districtline) – 49.9k followers
- Hammersmith & City line (@hamandcityline) – 28.2k followers
- Jubilee line (@jubileeline) – 55.8k followers
- Metropolitan line (@metline) – 36.3k followers
- Northern line (@northernline) – 69.3k followers
- Piccadilly line (@piccadillyline) – 55.6k followers
- Victoria line (@victorialine) – 59.5k followers
- Waterloo & City line (@wlooandcityline) – 31.1k followers
When you take a further look at these follower numbers, it’s the Central line which has the most, even though the District line has the most stations (according to the Telegraph). It has almost 3 times the amount of the followers that the Bakerloo, Hammersmith & City and Waterloo & City lines do – however, if you investigate further, the majority of Central line’s followers are fake/inactive:
Maybe it’s an indication that the most popular account on Twitter isn’t actually the most active.
When it comes to content, each account has community managers which open the account each day by introducing themselves:
Hi all, Ayo here to keep you up to date on the line which is currently operating a good service.
— Central line (@centralline) August 8, 2015
Throughout the day, they send out updates about how the lines are running, and on the odd occasion share general TfL news:
— H&C line (@hamandcityline) August 11, 2015
It’s a very unified social strategy, with a lot of the same content and tone being used across all the accounts – it’s friendly, welcoming and helpful. There is no brand banter we see on some other company accounts.
When it comes to followers, I wanted to see why people follow tube lines on Twitter – and it seems that the majority do it to keep up-to-date with delays or problems. I find it strange that someone would follow something on Twitter because they expect something to go wrong – could it maybe link to the negative comments which get sent back to TfL?
Surprisingly, Transport for London can be found on Instagram too (@transportforlondon). They use this channel to share high quality imagery of user-generated images, sponsorship updates or photos from their many transport routes. It’s a very simple account, with a lot of engagement on each photo – and they are good photos!
This Valentine’s weekend, book a romantic Emirates Air Line private cabin for you and your loved one with Laurent Perrier Brut NV Champagne, Godiva chocolates and romantic music. Pre-book the experience and see the spectacular lights of London from 6pm Thursday 11 February to Saturday 13 February and from 3pm on Valentine’s Day. https://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/valentines-experience
When it comes to social media, Transport for London have a very structured approach:
- Facebook is used for the promotional messages, news and updates which their audience eat up quite happily.
- Their multiple Twitter feeds are used for news and customer service – with agents looking after each line account and some of the update accounts too. A large number of the Twitter population depend on these feeds to make sure they receive updates on delays or repairs first, and they do this job to the best of their ability. When it comes to answering questions or complaints, sometimes they can be a bit quiet, but most of the time they help in a very strong manner.
- The Instagram feed for TfL is extremely basic, with high quality photos shared, but they do it well and get a large amount of engagement on each post.
Overall, there are some areas which they could work on, but most importantly, they need to ensure that the sentiment towards the TfL brand does not become too negative, as it is, essentially, an organisation to serve the public. With the recent tube strikes, their social team are going to have work extra hard to ensure that TfL are seen as a helpful and useful service who warrant the support of the audience they have.