Lisa Schweitzer. Planning and Social Media: A Case Study of Public Transit and Stigma on Twitter. Journal of the American Planning Association: Vol. 80, No. 3, 2014, pp. 218-238.
Problem, research strategy, and findings: How media portray public transit services can affect the way voters and stakeholders think about future transit investments. In this study, I examine social media content about public transit from a large sample of Twitter comments, finding that they reflect more negative sentiments about public transit than do the comments about most other public services, and include more negative material about transit patrons. However, transit agencies may be able to influence the tone of those comments through the way they engage with social media. Transit agencies that respond directly to questions, concerns, and comments of other social media users, as opposed to merely “blasting” announcements, have more positive statements about all aspects of services and fewer slurs directed at patrons, independent of actual service quality. The interaction does not have to be customer oriented. Agencies using Twitter to chat with users about their experiences or new service also have statistically significantly more positive sentiments expressed about them on social media. This study’s limitations are that it covers only one social media outlet, does not cover all transit agencies, and cannot fully control for differences in transit agency service.
Takeaway for practice: Planners committed to a stronger role for public transit in developing sustainable and equitable cities have a stake in the social media strategy of public transit agencies; moreover, they should not let racial and sexist slurs about patrons dominate feeds. Planners should encourage interactive social media strategies. Even agencies that only tweet interactively a few times a day seem to have more civil discussions surrounding their agencies and announcements on Twitter than agencies that use their feed only to blast service announcements.