Social Networks - An interactive ITS Handbook for Planning Large
Relevance for Large Scale Events
Best Cases and Examples
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The decision-making of travellers is the core of individual and collective travel behaviour, with a direct
impact on the transport service itself, and information plays obviously a key role in the process.
“Traffic Information” reached drivers when traffic reports became a radio broadcast programming back in
the 1960s. In the 1980s, video cameras became an essential data source for monitoring centre to elaborate
traffic bulletins. The provision of pre-trip transport information and later on of real-time customised
transport information emerged in the last two decades as one of the key applications in urban and
interurban mobility as a part of in-vehicle information, the transportation service itself and as part of public
The aim of information provision is to lower the information barriers that sometimes prevents from an
efficient use of multimodal transport networks. This activity largely evolved with the support of internet
and wireless communication networks as key technology enablers. The recent development in mobile
devices (i.e. diffusion of the so-called “smartphones”) and reduction of wireless communication costs
stimulated the born of a new traveller, the “smart traveller”, supported by information provided by many
transport companies, agencies and authorities.
The explosion of social media and social networks can be placed around 2009-2010, when they gained
respect of general public beyond the users (already billions) and of the whole society (companies, politics
etc…). The next figure shows the number of users (spring 2012) of the most relevant media.
Social Media and Networks main mission is to make it easy for users to create, share and broadcast
information with everyone else, thus enabling “always connected” users and communities.
Therefore Social Networks and especially Mobile Social Networks and Media took a natural role in the
context of transportation, where users are not anymore only the “recipient” of information, but become an
active part in the creation of information itself and of its diffusion.
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These “new” features are the basis for both opportunities and criticalities in using social media and
networks in the transport sector; in fact the original “bottom-up” approach of such tools does not require
an “official” role and activity of transport authorities, agencies and companies as they are fundamentally
users driven. Nonetheless many transport entities took already up an active role both to take the most out
of the new tools and to govern the raising information flow in order to limit potential counterproductive
The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into
an interactive dialogue . Kaplan and Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based
applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the
creation and exchange of user-generated content."  Social media are media for social interaction, as a
superset beyond social communication. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication
techniques, social media substantially change the way of communication between organizations,
communities, as well as individuals.
Web-based social networking services make it possible to connect people who share interests and
activities across political, economic, and geographic borders. Through apps and instant messaging, online
communities are created where a gift economy and reciprocal altruism are encouraged through
It is therefore possible to classify social media and networks according to the way the users create and
share the information: these have a direct influence on the topic addressed and syntax used. Sterne 
defined seven broad categories:
1. Forums and Messages Boards – These range from old newsgroups to threaded discussion groups
where people can submit a question or an opinion and others can offer up an answer. Such sites
can be created by individuals and by organizations.
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2. Review and Opinion Sites – Sites dedicated for sharing reviews and opinions are very common,
mainly for eCommerce sites that often use this way of communication to address customers’
questions and complaints.
3. Social Networks – General purpose on-line communities, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, enable
people to interact on several levels of privacy.
4. Blogging – Blogs are mainly used to post people’s opinion to the world, often containing relatively
sophisticated and long contents. This type of social media is also used by politicians for
approaching their potential voters in a semi informal mean of communication.
5. Micro Blogging – This category is characterized by short posts, and probably Twitter is currently its
most common example.
6. Bookmarking – These sites let individuals tag items that are the most interes ng, important and
useful for them. Some sites are dedicated to speciﬁc types of content (such as the social news
website reddit ) and some are more general (such as Stumbleupon ).
7. Media Sharing – Photos and videos are shared by people using Media Sharing sites like YouTube
Social media applications used on mobile devices are called mobile social media, and play a
straightforward role for “smart travelling”, since they have a higher location- and time-sensitivity. In the
last period the use of mobiles to use social media increased a lot and became the preferred access mode.
The following figure, from a U.S. Nielsen research, shows how users connect to social media. The 20112012 comparison clearly shows the huge increase of mobile devices usage (+22%) wrt to asmall decline on
connection via PC (-3%)
Source: State of the Media: The Social Media Report, 2012 © Nielsen 2012
It is possible to classify four types of mobile social media applications, depending on whether the message
takes into account the specific location of the user (location-sensitivity) and whether it is received and
processed by the user instantaneously or with a time delay (time-sensitivity).
1. Space-timers (location and time sensitive): Exchange of messages with relevance for one specific
location at one specific point-in time (e.g., Facebook Places; Foursquare)
2. Space-locators (only location sensitive): Exchange of messages, with relevance for one specific
location, which are tagged to a certain place and read later by others (e.g., Yelp; Qype)
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3. Quick-timers (only time sensitive): Transfer of traditional social media applications to mobile
devices to increase immediacy (e.g., posting Twitter messages or Facebook status updates)
4. Slow-timers (neither location, nor time sensitive): Transfer of traditional social media applications
to mobile devices (for example, watching a YouTube video or reading a Wikipedia entry)
While it is beyond the scope of this ITS tool description to go into more details of each of the several
available social media and networks, we will focus on the currently most used social media in the transport
Twitter, especially for real-time information and
Facebook for more general marketing and customer care oriented activities.
Relevance for Large Scale Events
The use of Social Media and Web 2.0 is very recent in the transport sector compared to the use of other
information channels and there is not yet sound scientific evidence on the impacts and benefits. The
relevance for large events scale is still unknown, nonetheless they proved to be very much used exactly
during such kind of events and during transport-related crisis, where the need for customised and real-time
information is of outmost importance for users decision making and for transport companies, agencies and
authorities to deliver the right messages.
There are many options in using social media and web 2.0 for transportation purposes. They all depends
from the objective the transport entity has and their market.
The next figure summarises some of the many missions and targets of social media
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Indication of the technologies required by the tool
Social media and Web 2.0 rely on internet and wireless communication technologies allowing data
exchange (e.g. GPRS, 3G, UMTS, etc…) and on the diffusion of the use of PC and lately of connected mobile
devices among users.
Although creating a social media site could be in principle almost free of charge, a company willing to do
that have to plan some investments on IT infrastructure and security.
Nonetheless it should also be noticed that the main impact and effort on using social media is on staff and
personnel training; an effective use of such communication tools may also require non trivial changes on
the management of information at company level, including changes in the information platform and
changing how the information is created and managed during its lifetime.
The potential effects of the system, e.g. in terms of traffic efficiency, environmental impact, safety,
protection of vulnerable road users, etc.
At the time of writing most of the Capitals and several large cities in Europe and over the World already
started using social media and networks.
A scientific evaluation of impacts of such tools is not yet available. By the way the recent spread of such
tools among transport related entities can give an indirect proof of the importance of using social media
and web 2.0.
In 2010 50 UK bus operators was reported to have official Facebook and Twitter sites .
For what concern Twitter, the unit of measure it is the number of followers; by the way it worth noting that
while most of the follower are single end-users, some of them are media operators, with a huge capacity to
broaden the outreach of information, e.g. through radio channels or programs on local transport.
Other ITS which can be integrated with the tool in order to improve its effectiveness
The effective use of social media and web 2.0 need a strong integration with the entire information
management chain therefore integration is envisaged with all the ITS providing and elaborating
The most relevant ones are:
Channels of delivery of travel information
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Integration travel/tourist/event information
Network and all other services monitoring
On trip Information (static/dynamic)
Public Transport Fleet Management (AVM)
Real time information
Security and emergency vehicle management
practical indications regarding deployment of the tool
Despite the fact that the use of social media could apparently seem very easy and relatively cheap, there
are several issues that transport entities need to take into account, and in particular:
Some investment in IT and specific development may be required (e.g. developments of dedicated
Dedicated and trained Staff is required, to have updated information management and usage of
media-specific language; this could be the most relevant cost at company level;
Enhance systems security, when there is a direct access to data;
Choose the social media according to objectives and to the target market;
Assess the impacts on the organisation: social media need quick and sharp answers to single users’
questions, comments, request of real-time information during events, crisis etc… therefore the
information chain may need to be adapted;
Be able to face complaints and critics, that may have a higher impact compared to those forwarded
by traditional means; by the way it worth noting that transport users already use social media
regardless what a transport company does;
Check compliancy with regulations (e.g. privacy, recordings, etc…).
Case studies describing use of the tool:
a) In previous large scale events
b) In more general contexts
The Olympics 2012 held in London are probably the first large events where social media and networks had
a role in the management and provision of information to users.
Transport for London in fact operated a range of new social media platforms to assist and inform
commuters before and during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
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While the description of social media services provided by TfL is in the next paragraph, here are
summarised the main outcomes related to the Olympics 2012.
On the importance of information in general, TfL reported that “one of the key reasons why the transport
network operated smoothly during the Games was that [users] followed the advice of London 2012,
transport partners and TfL to change the way you travelled, avoiding busy times and stations”. The majority
of regular travellers did not stay out of London, they simply changed the time or way they travelled, such as
walking or cycling all or part of their journeys, or taking a different route. We have learnt from the Get
Ahead of the Games campaign how communication and modest changes in behaviour can help make the
most of the available capacity on the transport network. Much greater and more effective use was made of
digital and social media channels, particularly Twitter, for the provision of real-time travel information and
advice during the Games. This is something we will build on in the future”.
Good practice examples (general examples, not only from large events)
The social media area in the Transport for London web site provides links to Twitter, Facebook and
YouTube, where users that are interested can follow in real time news, events, suggestions of all users that
belongs the community.
Twitter counts several different accounts, for general and dedicated services:
@TfLOfficial: Official Transport for London feed for news and information about London’s transport
network, nowadays has 62.104 followers;
@TfLOyster: is the official feed for Oyster card customer queries and information by Transport for
London. Operated from 05:00 – 01:00. Nowadays has 7.505 followers;
Other accounts are dedicated to specific services: Tube lines, DLR, Overground and trams services updates,
Traffic news, Bus Alerts, travel alerts, etc.
The next figure shows TfL social media page
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To give the dimension of the phenomenon, the “Central Line” and “Overground” dedicated accounts are
followed by around 12.000 users and other accounts can easily counts on more than 5.000 users.
TfL Traffic News is instead followed by nearly 30.000 users.
The next figure shows the links to Facebook and Youtube pages
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Compte Twitter du Groupe RATP, the official press service of the RATP is now the reference for media
stakeholders, and institutional B to B and allows real-time monitoring of the Group's news.
Twitter accounts for RATP lines are active every day from 6 am to 21h, informing subscribers on:
Real-time passengers information and traffic conditions,
Work in progress (renovations, extensions ....),
Events impacting travel (sporting events, fairs, cultural events ...),
Animation operations organized on the lines (National Holidays, Promoted events in the subway ...)
The several accounts are run by RATP operators, sort of "control tower" of subway, bus, trams and RER
RATP networks. They have real-time information on traffic, the Metro network and significant disturbing
Currently there are some Metro and Tramway lines followed by twitter, but the plan is to extend the
coverage during 2013.
The next figure shows the @Ligne1_RATP account, dedicated to Underground Line 1.
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TMB – Barcelona Spain
“Get info and give your opinion, wherever you are” is the introduction to the social network area of TMB
web page: TMB CONNECTION.
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Rome started quite recently a stable use of social media and web 2.0 on top of its information platform
www.muoversiaroma.it (meaning “move in Rome”), which also have a dedicated version for mobile devices
www.muovi.roma.it (as an evolution of the former “atacmobile” service launched in 2006).
Both allows to use social media like youtube, facebook and twitter (on top-right of the left picture and
bottom left side of the right picture)
The Twitter account started in 2011; it is a general one and currently counts on more than 8.000 follower
(steadily increasing an average 10% per month).
A dedicated account (on the left picture) is managed for the car-sharing service.
The general twitter account is used for providing information on services status, bus deviations,
disruptions, recoveries, and normally accounts for 30-40 tweets per day.
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During special events it is much more used and tweets normally doubles: on the 24th of November 2012
there were two “competing” demonstrations in Rome and the twitter account followed them providing
real-time updating of street closures, bus deviation, demonstrations location and transportation services
The page on facebook is dedicated to more institutional information and accounts for more than 2000
Sao Paulo – Brazil
The City of Sao Paulo counts on the following Twitter accounts:
@sptrans: Official Twitter account of SP Transport (Service from Monday through Friday, 9h to 17h,
except holidays.) with 6.665 follower;
@Transp_Metrop: official account of the Sao Paulo State Secretariat of Metropolitan
Transportation (STM), Partner of: Metro, CPTM and EMTU / SP, nowadays has 1.183 followers.
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 Kaplan A. M., Haenlein M., (2010), Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social
media, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, Issue 1 (page 61)
 Kaplan, A. M. (2012) If you love something, let it go mobile: Mobile marketing and mobile social media
4x4, Business Horizons, 55(2), p. 129-139.
 Sterne J., (2010), Social media metrics: How to measure and optimize your marketing investment,
 Austin, J., (2010), Use of Social Networking to promote public transport and sustainable travel, 'Local
Transport Today', ITS Review, Autumn 2010, http://www.analytics.co.uk/social-media.html
 Austin, J. (2011), Use of Facebook and Twitter by Public Transport Operators in a time of crises, IIID
Traffic & Transport Conference, Vienna Austria, September 2011
 Nash, A., Social Media in Transport, CIVITAS Forum 2011, notes
 for London: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/social-media/
 The London 2012 Legacy, http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/25869.aspx
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 for Paris: http://www.ratp.fr/fr/ratp/r_78412/twitter/
 for Barcelona: http://www.tmb.cat/en/tmb-connecta
 for Rome: www.muoversiaroma.it
 for Sao Paulo: http://www.sptrans.com.br/
The web references have been consulted in December 2012.
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