- Lights, camera, Metro. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Today marks the close of Brian Anderson's first business week working as WMATA's new social media manager — the first the organization's ever had. He started on Monday, August 1, after working for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) for four years as communications manager. Anderson arrives at a challenging time for Metro, right as the transit organization begins its $5 billion overhaul of the system as part of Metro Forward and, in this week alone, announces the arrest of four employees for fraud and a bitter conclusion to arbitration proceedings with Metro's biggest union. Emotions get hot around Metro, and in no place more visibly than in the sphere of social media Anderson is now entering.
But Anderson's not ending his work week yet. He plans to venture into Metro with a video camera this weekend to show people why stations will be closed.
"Tomorrow one of my coworkers and I are going out to the work area on the Red Line to look at the workings," the 31-year-old Anderson told me. He said he hopes to show not only what the track work really is but what a shuttle bus looks like. "I'm trying to remove that element of the unknown."
What Anderson refers to is the news — initially controversial, based on Twitter rumblings — that WMATA will be closing down certain Metro stations for maintenance work rather than leaving them open and single-tracking, which causes some of the serious weekend delays D.C. commuters have become accustomed to. On August 5-7, buses will shuttle people back and forth between Rockville and Bethesda, and four stations on the Red Line (Twinbrook, White Flint, Grosvenor and Medical Center) will close as Metro plans to add "new rail, repair tunnel leaks, replace ties and fasteners, install new communications cables to enhance cell phone coverage, and conduct preventive maintenance on 23 elevators and 10 escalators," according to a recent press release. Two Blue Line stations (Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield) will close Sunday, also with buses deployed to help close the gap between stations.
Earlier this week, Metro's chief spokesperson Dan Stessel told me it's the first time WMATA has replaced train service with buses on a two-day weekend and that they envision "an awful lot of work done as a result of not single tracking." Metro is investing around $5 billion into the system over the next six years, but such wide-ranging improvements also bring delays many weekends, and they won't relent any time soon. "The meat of Metro Forward will really begin this weekend," Stessel said.
Anderson's videos aim to capture that Metro moment and continue a tradition of informative videos the social media manager had created when working with SEPTA — yet the new employee still hasn't even landed a place to live yet.
How have the first, full days been for the new social media guru?
"They've been rough," Anderson said, "they've been busy ... The reception so far has been good."
@YoCalleJo all love my friend. It's great we have passionate customers. The feedback remains welcomed. ^BA
The self-described "transit geek" is staying with family for now and is still, like so many new workers who come to D.C., hunting for a place to live. Much of what concerns him now is learning the neighborhoods and making sure he picks the right location. His new job has kept him plenty busy in that regard, and in the first week, he had been out in the system getting trained in rail safety earlier this week. He's already jumped onto the @WMATA and @MetroForward Twitter accounts that Metro runs, typically following Stessel's lead and signing his tweets ^BA. The former account is, according to Anderson, about the "day-to-day" business of the Metro, from delays to issues on trains to a conversation with customers, while the latter @MetroForward account exists to promote the rehabilitation efforts that Metro is working on.
These new efforts from Metro have dynamically charged the atmosphere and conversation around the transit organization, in particular as issues like busted Metro escalators and hot cars dominate the discussion. Multiple people have observed the distinct change that occurred when spokesman Dan Stessel arrived at the beginning of summer. The 31-year-old Metro critic known online as FixWMATA noticed the change. Andrew Bossi, the 28-year-old traffic engineering consultant participating in this month's Low Car Diet Challenge, told me that Metro's communications turnaround has been "phenomenal" in recent months, from his perspective.
The new outreach efforts that Metro is attempting to pioneer are still very much in progress. "We're building the bike as we're riding it," Stessel told me earlier this week.
Anderson has some ideas about how he wants to expand and refine Metro's voice but agrees that they're still "feeling our way" at the moment. Twitter will remain a large element of how Metro communicates with its riders, and Anderson suspects he and Stessel will share some of those duties in the short term as he becomes accustomed to his new duties. The two coworkers get along "very well," Anderson said, and he anticipates little friction as they move forward. He mentions tapping the social possibilities of flickr, YouTube, and iTunes, as well as other bigger outlets. "I'd definitely like to see Facebook integrated a little more," Anderson said. As for the videos he plans to take this weekend, hopes to make those available potentially as soon as Monday, with the possibility of making different ones public as next week continues. He's hesitant to commit to any timeline, however — it's the man's first week, after all, and he still has to see how the filming goes tomorrow.
After his 10 years in Philadelphia, Anderson expresses great enthusiasm for his new position and seems poised to bring a new dose of personality to the Metro system. "I love technology, I like to travel," he told me about his interests. Music and radio and snowboarding are just some of the passions the 31-year-old social media manager has. Perhaps most fitting, however, is his fondness for watching the trains and buses ride by. Just yesterday, he was out and watched the trains at New Carrollton. He's also ready to jump into the digital space surrounding Metro, and shows little fear of the fierceness of Metro critics there. The customers of SEPTA were just as "passionate," and it's a passion he welcomes. The world of social media opens up that emotional, visceral conversation as part his new position.
"What I've always followed is how we use technology," Anderson said. "The one thing my other position taught me is how much I love the Internet."