Community Management is an increasingly important role for many big brands. For Transport for London Cycling – where social media is at the forefront of a user-facing strategy – this has never been more pertinent. 

I recently spoke with Matt Moran, TfL’s Online Community Manager for Cycling, to find out more about his role and how TfL is using social to engage with London’s cyclists.

Here’s what he had to say about his day job, where he tweets from @SantanderCycles and @TfL. And to learn more about this topic, book yourself a place on Econsultancy’s Online Community Management Training course.

Econsultancy: First, could you explain a bit about what you do? 

Matt Moran: I’m the Online Community Manager for Cycling here at Transport for London, so essentially I’m involved in anything cycling-related that happens on social media – from initial strategy through to the day-to-day execution of tactics. 

That might mean launching a Facebook campaign for Santander Cycles, responding to reports of a problem on a Cycle Superhighway on Twitter, or sharing user-generated content on Instagram. Ultimately though, I’m here as part of a big team helping to get more people cycling in London.

E: What does a typical day look like?

MM: Like most people who work in social media, there tends not to be a typical day! But I’ll always start my morning off by checking our social listening tools – usually before I’ve left home – to see whether there are any major issues where we need to respond quickly. 

Once any pressing issues are out of the way I’ll look for any conversations taking place that might not include TfL, but where we can add value and have a positive impact. For example, somebody might be thinking of starting to cycle to work, which is great for us, as we can really help them on their way with tools such as our Journey Planner or free Cycle Skills training. 

Most days I’ll also be working on one of the many campaigns we run throughout the year to promote cycling. Each day I document my journeys with a GoPro or my iPhone as I travel around London by bike – that provides us with a rich and relevant source of content in a relatively cost-effective way too.

E: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

MM: My role was new to TfL in 2016, so my first big piece of work was to develop the strategy on how we should approach cycling as an organisation on social media. 

TfL is a large organisation, so navigating stakeholders and understanding their priorities and motivations was a challenge initially. There are also lots of external stakeholders to consider too, not least the people who already cycle in London and share their thoughts on social media, so it’s important for us to empathise and understand their needs. 

Thankfully we’re all focused on one thing and that’s to get more people cycling, more safely, more often.

E: What is the structure like at TfL – how do you work alongside other Community Managers?

MM: As this was a new role there’s been a certain amount of freedom in determining how best to position myself within the organisation. 

Other community managers will know that the key to success is to respond quickly and accurately to what is happening across the organisation. With this in mind, I divide up my week across different locations to sit with colleagues from Press, Online, Marketing and Planning – I also work closely with the social media team at Santander, for activities around Santander Cycles. 

I truly believe that you can never know too much about the subject matter when it comes to being a great community manager (I’ve been working in both cycling and social media for almost a decade).

E: Part of your role is to encourage people to take up cycling – is there a balance between this and other responsibilities such as dealing with complaints? Where does your focus lie?

MM: I’m 100% focused on getting new people cycling but I also recognise the importance of developing a relationship and providing value for existing cyclists through social media. They are the people who sit next to colleagues and friends in the office, in the café or the pub and enthuse about how quickly they got to work by bike, or what a great time they had riding in Hyde Park at the weekend. 

It’s simple word-of-mouth marketing, and it works in tandem both online and offline, so if I can encourage existing cyclists to ride even more (and have a great experience because of the work TfL is doing) then it’s win-win for the greater good.

When it comes to complaints, I see it as an opportunity to develop a positive relationship with a customer – it’s simply about good communication and over-delivering on the solution. 

E: How do you deal with negativity? Do you follow a certain protocol?

MM: This one has always been easy for me, I just respond as quickly, honestly and personably as possible. Sometimes negativity is drawn from complex issues but we don’t shy away from those and we always aim to provide a response that answers the question and gives value. 

I tend to sign off my replies with my first name and a bike emoji that helps to create a bit more of a human connection, rather than customers feeing like they’re tweeting into – and receiving an answer from – a large faceless organisation. Being human trumps negativity every time.

E: Is there a difference between social media channels in terms you how you interact with people (or conversely, how people behave)?

MM: Expectations from customers vary wildly across platforms and we try to play to each platforms strengths. Twitter is certainly our busiest platform in respect of queries and we respond as quickly as we can, whereas the pace on Facebook is somewhat slower and we can be a little more creative in the type of media we use. 

For Santander Cycles we’ve recently started to ramp up our efforts on Instagram which provides a really positive platform to inspire people to ride with beautiful images and the sharing of user-generated content. Our tone of voice generally stays the same but we are able to play around a little more with the creative across different channels.

E: 2016 was a record-breaking year for the Santander Cycle scheme. How has your role (and TfL’s greater focus on cycling in general) aided this?

MM: My role has helped us to move from a campaign-led approach to an always-on approach to social media. This means we can be really agile around our social content. A simple example is that we ramp up our messaging when the sun is shining, in order to inspire people to ride and pull back during periods of extreme adverse weather.

Having a subject-matter expert in the role brings a deeper level of understanding to our messaging and allows us to provide more value to consumers with one-to-one conversations. 

I also work closely with the fantastic social media team at Santander. It’s a great partnership that has delivered some excellent work, such as the launch of the Blaze Laserlight which featured Halloween-themed video content for Facebook and a custom emoji on Twitter for @SantanderCycles. That campaign resonated well with the audience and illustrated that you can have a bit of fun layered over the top of a more serious safety message.

If you combine the delivery of our social media content with the brilliant work my colleagues are doing on the ground – such as the East/West Cycle Superhighway along the Thames – you can really start to see how cycling is a practical and enjoyable way to travel around London. The proof of success is in the record number of Santander Cycles hires in 2016 (and as I say this we’ve just recorded our highest-ever number of hires in a February).

E: Community Management now seems to be a mix of both online reputation management and general social media outreach – how do you see the role evolving in future?

MM: A great community manager can’t stand still. We need to be executing every day to ensure our practical knowledge and skills stay relevant. Competition for consumer attention between the major platforms is intense right now, with updates being rolled out on an almost weekly basis, so we need to be aware of these changes as soon as they happen and switch our tactics appropriately.

Understanding the ROI of your content is fundamental to success. This means interpreting what the platform analytics are telling you, how that data matches up with your objectives and adapting your output to generate even more success. 

Online reputation management is important but if you’re consistently providing your audience with value then they’ll be much more forgiving when things do go wrong. We’re doing a lot more work with influencers, partners and involving the community to help us spread the message more widely. Not that any of that is particularly new – it’s just the way we can do this with new platform features keeps it really relevant and interesting for the community.

E: Finally, what’s the best thing about your job?

MM: I love being able to execute each day, it lets me be really at the forefront of what is happening across the major social media platforms. And there’s no amount of training or watching YouTube videos that can replace executing, understanding what worked and why, and then fine-tuning content to ensure it performs even better. 

The best bit is that I get to do that every day around a subject that has been a passion of mine for all of my life – cycling!

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