‘SMRT has a lot more to learn about social media’

It took SMRT three train breakdowns and four days to create a social media account on Twitter.

Their initial Twitter description stated that updates are only posted during working hours, Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 6pm, excluding public holidays. Newsrooms have to wait for official statements, which usually take a much longer time, before they can release any information out to the public.

This seems rather unacceptable in today's fast-paced digital age, according to most social media experts.

In terms of social media, SMRT has been rather inadequate in disseminating information to the public with regards to the recent train delays and breakdowns. The train delay during Monday's evening peak hour along the North-East line is a quintessential example.

I was on board the northbound train at Raffles Place station, and the train was delayed. I whipped out my mobile phone, and started tweeting about the delay. It was 6.50 pm. But SMRT only updated their Twitter at 8.07 pm saying -- "Train svc is still running smoothly, despite a 9 min delay at Orchard northbound at 1846."

Apparently, it took them over an hour to update the public about the delay.

A more understandable time frame would be between 10 and 20 minutes after the delay first occurred, says Leonard Lim, who heads social media campaigns for corporate clients.

"I find it ludicrous that SMRT actually took 1hr 20mins to disseminate information to the public. They need to be as real-time as possible, and somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes is what should be expected of SMRT, especially in today's digital age," he said.

Kirsten Han, former deputy editor of socio-political blog The Online Citizen, told Yahoo! Singapore that while she sees value in SMRT having a Twitter account to put out official updates, it is important that SMRT works closely with the train commuters to spread information to the public to prevent more people from being affected.

"Some tweets out there, although well-meaning, might not necessarily be accurate so it's good for SMRT to have their own account to be a corroborating source. But instead of having this account to 'counter' other sources, they should work together with them and never underestimate the power of crowdsourcing," she said.

Besides providing instant updates to the public via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, what SMRT can work on is to publish informative updates such as "retweeting" photos that show the situation on the ground. Another aspect which they could improve on is to search for tweets on Twitter regarding issues that affected train commuters are facing and reply them with updates.

DBS Bank and StarHub provide extensive customer support service on Twitter, and SMRT communications team can learn from them, though not exactly the same, advised Tan Pei Jun, another social media specialist.

Furthermore, the idea of having to wait for an official statement before broadcasters can report on it just makes the matter worse.

Last week, radio deejay Hossan Leong was "censured" for reading out a supposedly unverified tweet on air that said the Circle Line was down, instead of waiting for an official statement from the transport operator.

Channel NewsAsia posted a video on Facebook featuring behind the scenes of newscaster Timothy Go asking whether he could report the MRT breakdown on Thursday based on photos sent by his producer instead of waiting for the official statement.

Kirsten Han thinks that newscasters or radio deejays should be allowed to report on the MRT breakdowns based on reports on the ground rather than waiting for the statement from the transport operator.

"Radio DJs have been reporting on traffic conditions based on tips from listeners and on-site cameras for years without having to wait for official statements from LTA," she told Yahoo! Singapore.

"If a breakdown occurs, the main concern should be about getting the word out as quickly as possible so that people can start planning alternative routes, instead of continuing to stream into the MRT stations and getting stuck there," she added.

She also reiterated that the senior management of SMRT should never forget that they are first and foremost providing a public service, and that SMRT should relook its existing communications platforms and change them to suit today's digital world.

In an interview with reporters on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the generation of today demands real-time updates, and that SMRT will continue to improve its conventional commutation platforms to suit the needs.