What Social Media Managers Can Learn from @MBTA

As a social media professional who has managed accounts for clients in industries from restaurants to real estate, I’m always intrigued by the ways in which consumer-facing industries handle feedback on their social channels. One Twitter handle that I’ve always watched with interest is @MBTA—the agency that provides public transportation in greater Boston.

CityLab reports that public transit organizations are on the receiving end of more discriminatory and hateful tweets than most other public- and private-sector services (yes, even airlines and the IRS). Boston.com recently profiled the public information officers behind the T’s Twitter handle. Given the barrage of blizzards that struck the region in February, it was a fascinating look behind the scenes as the team struggled to calm angry commuters and share reliable information during weeks of subzero temperatures.

My takeaways from the profile?

Keep it positive: Having hurled a few impatient requests to the T in the dark days of February (sorry!), I noticed that the T is unfailingly positive in its responses, even to the angriest of riders. Public information officers ask for details to get to the root of the problem without sarcasm or putting blame back onto riders. Anger just begets more anger, which helps no one.

Listen to you customers (even the angry ones): Lisa Battiston, who leads the team at the T, tells Boston.com the agency finds useful information in messages from angry customers. If the rider tweets they’re angry because an elevator is out, the T can send someone to fix the problem. Your customers know your organization best—use them as your eyes and ears even when they’re angry. It makes you better.

Develop a process: Even the most passionate and energetic community managers cannot be expected to man the social media controls for an entire service day at the MBTA, which lasts nearly 20 hours per day, 7 days a week. Burnout is real for social managers. Develop brand guidelines and train employees to stick to them so everyone feels comfortable truly checking out when they’re off the clock.

No response is sometimes the best response: While the folks behind @MBTA respond to focused complaints, some users just tag the agency without voicing a specific complaint. If there’s no direct question or issue to address, sometimes it’s best to stay quiet or answer someone who has voiced a specific problem.

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