Social media analytics can help transportation agencies navigate citizen needs

You’ve probably caught on by now that I live in the DC-metro area and suffer daily through the misery of congestion.  Before I even reach for my keys, I check for the latest information from regional transportation agencies, especially Metro, to devise my plan of attack.  Going way beyond the old school traffic report on the morning news, I turn to the Twitter feeds of these agencies to avoid blindly heading into battle.

And that is just one reason why I love social media.  For me, it’s not only the easiest way to keep up with my friends, family and colleagues, but it also gives me immediate access to the latest information on the topics I care most about: transportation and celebrity gossip.

@Metrorailinfo Red line is delayed again. It's hot in here. Has the royal baby come yet? #princessmelissa -- Original image URL:

Increasingly, transportation departments, transit agencies, driver’s licensing agencies and others are taking to social media channels to inform their citizens about schedule irregularities, current wait times and things to avoid.  In that sense, they are taking a proactive approach and pushing information out to those who care most.

While this is a good example of how government agencies can use social media to their advantage, agencies can also analyze recurring themes in social chatter to better anticipate and meet their customer’s needs.

But Twitter isn’t always a bed of roses, as Metro knows.  The Metro system is old, which leads to regular unexpected (how’s that for an oxymoron) service outages (elevators, escalators, trains, buses, power) which always lead to delays and complaints.  And while Metro uses social media to alert customers to scheduled work and expected delays, when these unexpected problems arise (every single day) all they can do is get the word out as soon as possible.

Several Twitter accounts exist to keep commuters aware of what’s happening and to question decisions Metro executives make.  There are literally hundreds of conversations happening daily about Metro problems and while this probably makes the managers at Metro reach for the Excedrin, it’s also a boon of information.

Treating these conversations like information assets would enable government agencies, like Metro, to gain insight into the sentiment of conversations, identify trends and ultimately stay out in front of problems.  The use of social media analytics would allow agencies to focus on critical issues, filter through massive amounts of information and run reports showing the top positive messages and threats to their reputation.

Agencies could analyze deep levels of conversation detail within social media and other online channels, and allow them to:

  • Continuously collect and archive social media conversations to under­stand trends.
  • Predict future volumes of social media conversations and their impact on business results.
  • Adjust underlying sentiment applied to source documents and the associ­ated rules that assign sentiment to topics.
  • Take action on insights using inte­grated routing and workflow features.

Internet users chat daily – across social media sites, on public forums and within customer feedback channels – about products, services and their experiences, as well as their likes and dislikes. This virtual focus group is tak­ing place online, and these conversa­tions are increasing. By analyzing open online conversations, transportation agencies can better understand the needs of citizens, even as their sentiment jostles back and forth like a Metro car at rush hour.


About Author

Melissa Savage

Sr Industry Consultant, State and Local Government

Melissa Savage is a subject matter expert with SAS Institute, Inc. focusing on transportation issues facing state and local governments. Prior to her position with SAS Institute, Inc. Ms. Savage was a Program Director at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in the Energy, Environment & Transportation program. During her 13 years with NCSL, Ms. Savage authored several publications on transportation issues, testified before state legislative committees and represented NCSL and the interests of state legislatures before national transportation organizations and working groups on a variety of topics. Before working at NCSL, Melissa worked in the Office of Legislative Legal Services at the Colorado General Assembly. She received her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado and her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University.

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