Transit Agencies Need Online Savvy to Influence Politics

Surveying and research modeling for transit ballot measures typically happens in the final crunch before elections.

But Scott Wilkinson, founder of AlphaVu, makes a compelling case for transit agencies and transportation strategists to stay focused on how people are talking about them 365 days a year.

imgres-10“In transit, we’re feeling gun-shy. We’re used to people complaining about [transit service]. We need to get over that,” he said at the Center for Transportation Excellence conference running from Sunday until tomorrow in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Being gun-shy makes us reactive. We need to have more influence over the political environment,” said Wilkinson, whose firm “provides the real-time competitive intelligence you must have to win in the Internet age.”

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AlphaVu’s Scott Wilkinson

Wilkinson worked at the center of online efforts for John McCain’s presidential campaign and was a close advisor on tax issues to former Virginia Governor George Allen.

Those experiences led him to understand that it is key for campaigns to target and focus on small universes of voters.

Throughout history, he said, nearly all political trends have been catalyzed by a small number of motivated people. And today, nearly all those people have moved their efforts online to social media.

“There are a number of people who are no longer in office because they didn’t pay attention to what people were saying about them online,” Wilkinson said, adding that even local officials and agencies must pay attention to online dialogue outside of their immediate geographies.

“Information knows no borders.”

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How to make sense of the never-ending tide of relevant information? Well, AlphaVu can do that for organizations and agencies. But Wilkinson also gave some tips on what social-media managers can seek to research in-house:

  • Democrats and Republicans aren’t talking to each other much at all, but the ones on either side who are talking to each other are very valuable influencers. Find them and get to know them.
  • Democrats are influencing each other based on what the mainstream media are saying.
  • Republicans are influencing each other based on what bloggers – not necessarily Fox News, Wilkinson said – are saying.
  • Some people have more online power than others. Focus your resources on determining who the 10 or so most powerful direct influencers are on Twitter on a given topic. These are typically the people who begin and continue any given campaign or grass-roots efforts. Try to engage with and influence them. And keep discovering who is doing the influencing on issues every day.

Wilkinson said there is no shame in checking your “ego frequency,” which is simply charting how people are happy or complaining about you and your organization. The negative spikes will obviously often occur when there are transit delays. But finding the influencers who started the conversation is often the best approach to easing or even improving the situation.

“This is what you do 365 days a year because you are being talked about. You will get hit if you’re not looking below the surface,” Wilkinson said. “At the end of the day, [these approaches] will result in better customer service and better decision making.”

Photos by Lynn Friedman and @kclightrail.

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