Usually, when you tweet a 140 character rant at a public transportation account, nothing happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll get retweeted by someone else. But most likely your tweet just ends up in a feed with dozens of other similarly angry tweets venting about delays and congestion during rush hour.
But what happens if the agency tweets back? And it’s with the truth?
That’s what happened to BART riders in the San Francisco Bay Area two weeks ago. When BART tweeted that certain trains would be delayed due to mechanical issues during rush hour, people were, understandably, angry at the thought of being stranded and then traveling in overcrowded cars. So, as many people do these days, they took to Twitter. And the unthinkable happened:
BART responded! They sent 57 pertinent, thoughtful tweets about the transit system’s recent history of unreliable service.
Rather than ignoring angry tweets or replying with generic, canned responses, BART tweeted back with empathy and real facts, directly addressing specific qualms. Instead of remaining distant, BART started a conversation, engaging its riders, learning more about them and educating the general population about BART’s issues.
The response was enormous -- news outlets across the country wrote stories about their unprecedented candidness. Internet sleuths combed Twitter to figure out who was behind such impressive honesty -- turns out it’s this guy, the self-described “professional apologist for America’s crumbling infrastructure.” And everyone was amazed that a public transportation agency cared so much.
Sure, even after the historic Twitter storm, trains were still delayed and crowded. But riders had aired their grievances and knew they’d been heard -- and they had more context for why everything is delayed. The situation is still unfortunate, but now both BART and its riders are on the same page. And BART is leveraging this new attention to shift the conversation -- BART needs funding, and now the whole world is watching.
Why were the candid tweets so successful?
Transparency often feels like a gamble, but it usually pays off. Members won’t trust you or the organization if you put up walls and withhold real, honest facts. Even though it’s terrifying, sometimes transparency means admitting a mistake. And sometimes it just means acknowledging that a member or customer is upset. In any case, responding honestly demonstrates you care and are listening. As BART’s candor showed, simple acts often go a long way with disgruntled members.
And while it’s great BART used Twitter to address their riders’ concerns, imagine if they had a community? Now wait -- we're not saying they should hide a myriad of gripes behind a private log in - but an organized, open community with extra resources and thoughtful moderation would be much better than Twitter.
Communities allow you to have the conversation on your turf. Everyone who logs in must adhere to the member guidelines that keep people productive and civil. The conversations are easier to follow along and offer real, valuable insight -- who knows what good ideas your customers have if you never hear them?
Plus, creating a space for people to interact with you and fellow members shows you value them and actively want to hear what they have to say. It’s not just a good sign for current members -- transparency is a pro for people considering joining the community, buying your product, or riding your train.
The fact that BART responded to so many tweets is important. But the fact that they left the script behind and showed personality and empathy is actually the biggest take away. The way an organization responds to members says a lot -- they can come across as distant, cold and robotic, or as real humans who care. Which would you prefer?
Community and authentic discussion humanize your organization, which makes it more trustworthy and is part of the recipe for loyal members. Even when crisis strikes and members lash out, responding is better than silence. And responding with truth and empathy is definitely the best way to turn negative attention into positive press.