Confessions of a social media manager: TfL on helping passengers and 'being human'

PRWeek's new series on social media managers profiles the people at the online coalface of some of Britain's biggest brands and organisations. First up, Transport for London...

©Transport for London
©Transport for London

When the Piccadilly Line Twitter account handler had a particularly tough day at the office in December, it highlighted what an occasionally unenviable task it can be representing the online 'public' face of certain large organisations and, more importantly, that real people run these social media accounts.

So, for a new feature, PRWeek contacted a range of big brands and organisations' social media handlers to find out more about their daily tasks. Naturally, our first respondent is from Transport for London (TfL):

Name: Ahmed Elmi

Role: Social media advisor

My typical day/shift involves...

Receiving and monitoring information from various sources, such as TfL's travel control centres, and ensuring TfL’s social media accounts are updated. I reply to customer enquiries sent through Twitter or Facebook, including private messages. Other typical duties involve passing on feedback from customers on maintenance/safety issues to people across TfL.

We also routinely run 'Tweet the Manager' sessions that allow customers to tweet questions to Tube Line managers. These are always very popular. Other responsibilities include hosting visits from various stakeholders who are always keen to see how we operate social media at TfL and interact with customers.

Which social media accounts do you manage?

I help cover 21 accounts including: all the tube/rail accounts, Emirates Cable Car, Santander Cycles, Accessibility and the official account @TfL – which has the most followers. We also handle customer contacts via the Transport for London Facebook page and the London Underground Facebook page.

Which channels work best for the brand and why?

Twitter and Facebook are very good tools in engaging with our customers directly. Customers use our accounts for various reasons, ranging from complicated refund/fare enquiries to just asking when the next train is due. In having someone available to contact directly, this supports TfL’s key message of 'Every Journey Matters'.

Are there any public relations guidelines?

Provide customers with accurate, personalised and relevant content through our social media channels. We want to be known for being human and professional, showing that we care about our customers.

What makes a good social media advisor?

Someone who can match the tone of the customer where appropriate, using a friendly, conversational tone. Keep it simple, customer-focused, positive, empathetic and uphold TfL’s reputation at all times.

Best experience:

Helping a worried wheelchair user reach their destination safely. The customer was already mid-journey on the Tube, but had to change their end destination at short notice. The customer tweeted us expecting real-time assistance and this is what he received as I arranged for the station supervisor to be ready with a ramp at his destination. Helping alleviate a customer’s fear while using our service is always rewarding.

Worst experience:

Sending a service update from the wrong account can be embarrassing, especially as customers are very quick to notice an error and point it out. Best thing to do is to thank the customer for pointing it out and then delete it quickly!

Read next: #TubeStrike – Brits and brands put on a brave face on social media

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