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Want to Connect with Millennials? Become a Social CEO; Agency GM Offers Practical Tips for Getting in the Game

CEO & General Manager
Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority
(Cincinnati Metro)

Social media is changing how the world communicates. Your customers and employees are always connected, sharing their knowledge and experiences and aware of what is being said about companies, people and services they like and use.

As the world changes, as public transit leaders, so must we. We must adapt our communication efforts if we want to reach millennials, those between the ages of 18-35.

We know from just about every industry report that this age group has a transit-friendly attitude, wants to live and work in urban communities that have robust public transportation and are avid users of technology. So what better way to connect with the largest and most diverse generation in American history than with social media?

While the social media landscape can be overwhelming with so many platforms popping up almost daily, I believe many public transit leaders will not only find it very rewarding, but a critical element to the success of their organization.

At SORTA, approximately 48 percent of our riders and 25 percent of our workforce fall within the millennial age group. As the CEO and general manager, I’ve found that being social allows me to connect with our customers and employees in a more personable way, gain insight by listening to who is talking and what they are saying about our service, and have the opportunity to be an informed voice in those conversations. For a leader, it also shows that you are open to listening and engaging in two-way dialogue and—most importantly in today’s ever-evolving landscape—are comfortable with change.

Studies have shown that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are key places millennials go to connect with leaders and brands they want to know more about. In fact, according to a recent Twitter study, 88 percent of millennials get their news from Twitter, and 50 percent of 18-24-year-olds check Facebook first thing when they wake up. If you’re looking to attract top millennial talent to your agency, there’s no better place to connect with them than on LinkedIn, where more than 39 million young professionals from around the world are looking for organizations with cultures they can identify with.

Social media is a powerful—not to mention cost-effective—tool for transit leaders to reach, connect and engage with our target audiences. It allows for more real-time, personalized communication, which has the potential to lead to an increase in ridership, awareness and support from stakeholders.

Social Skills
So how do you become a social CEO?

While there is no magic formula for success, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Choose the best platform.

Find out where your millennials are and then find the best platforms to reach them. LinkedIn is the number one network for CEOs and the ideal platform to create a presence as a thought leader, highlight the innovation of your team and show off your organizational success to attract and retain top talent.

In addition, 66 percent of all millennials have a Facebook account, making it not only the most popular social media network but a great tool to connect and engage with employees and stakeholders. And Twitter is the best platform for real-time information sharing and social listening.

2. Connect and engage.
Find out who your influencers are. Follow them and then engage them. Ask questions and answer theirs. Share their tweets, listen, leave a comment or add something of value to their ­conversations. It may be a small connection, but it’s often noticed and valued. Remember engagement matters, number of followers not so much. Focus on what matters.

3. Narrate organizational news.
Use social media to amplify organizational news by adding your voice to it. The very act of telling your transit agency’s story in your own words exerts a high degree of influence over the discussion. It also helps you brand yourself as an industry thought leader. It’s a great tool for posting photos and videos and sharing TV clips, news articles and radio interviews featuring your organization.

4. Be personable.

Develop a niche. Give your followers something to engage with you about. I started a theme of wearing ­bowties each Friday and posting a “selfie” to social media. I was amazed at the response it has received.

Several members of my staff began to wear bowties on Fridays and we’d post images together. Individuals would provide me with bowties to wear, representing their charity or organization and allowing me to show my support or help bring awareness to their cause. It became a conversation starter and helped to make me more approachable.

The bottom line is, social media is about relationships and connections. The more connected millennial customers feel with you as the leader of the transit service they use, the more likely they are to trust you, like you and ultimately use your service.

Ferrell previously served as the county manager of Fulton County, GA, where he led more than 5,000 employees and developed, recommended and administered the county’s state and federal legislative agenda. He also has served in leadership positions in several public transit agencies.

“Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
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