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131500 trains: Too Much of a Bad Thing?

October 27, 2011

As a regular Sydney rail commuter (on CityRail’s Southern Highlands line) I’ve been following 131500 trains on Twitter for some time. It’s a really useful service – giving Twitter followers advance notice of issues and delays on the Sydney rail network.

However, as you can see from a snapshot (left) of a timeline of @131500trains’ tweets, the bad news is unrelenting – “cancelled”, “late”, “mechanical problems”, track equipment problems”, “delayed” and “emergency … repairs” are all mentioned within the space of five hours and six tweets today.

I believe @131500trains is doing its brand considerable damage – and CityRail should rethink its approach to using social media as a notification service.

As a result of the constant barrage of bad news tweets, you get this type of response (note the use of the #cityrail hash tag!). A couple of today’s examples:

A better approach would be to provide more targeted and specific information to those that need it. For example, I’m generally only interested in what’s going on the Southern Highlands and Airport & East Hills lines – so it would make more sense to have a separate Twitter account for each line for me to follow.

That approach would end up having two major benefits.

First, not as many followers would be exposed to CityRail’s bad news. If you look at the picture of @131500trains’ tweets on the left, not one relates to either of the two lines that I regularly use. Also, it might open up the opportunity to throw in some positive news at the same time, specific to that line.

Second, CityRail would have more characters available to use for each tweet – because it no longer has to provide information about which line is affected in its 140 characters. As a consequence, there would be more room to explain the situation, which means better communication outcomes.

Then, using a few smarts and a bit of coding, I’m sure that CityRail can bring all these tweets from the different accounts together and present them via a less immediate and public channel (maybe its website) or possibly link them to the main timetable pages on its website for each of the lines.

#justsaying …

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2011 6:27 pm

    They used to append hashtags to tweets according to the line affected. Not sure why they stopped doing this, perhaps because it allowed “unauthorised” tweets on the stream.

    More useful though. You can get real info from people already at the station/on the train, rather than the delayed stuff that comes through @131500 trains.

    • October 31, 2011 1:51 pm

      That makes sense – you can’t own a hashtag, which means you have no control over what is tweeted out there. That’s why I think separate Twitter accounts for each line would be good idea. CityRail has probably just got the one person managing the account, which makes it difficult to run separate accounts and also would make it hard to respond quickly to information coming through about the various lines. I’m sure a more automated system would be useful …

      For instance, most stations now have the text to speech announcer system when trains are delayed (“The 7:15 City via East Hills service is delayed by approximately 12 minutes.”) Why not turn that into an automated Facebook and Twitter message at the same time?

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