HomeSpecial ReportsSocial Media’s Influence on Student Transportation Industry Hard to Track

Social Media’s Influence on Student Transportation Industry Hard to Track

Everyone is using it in one way or another, but for business and staff recruiting social media marketing is not without its challenges

Every industry has been forever changed since the inception of social media and its significant use by marketing departments. But how heavily has the school bus industry leaned on social media to address bus driver shortages, communicate with parents about bus route updates, and promote clean green buses to the public?

The answer: Not as much. But a case can still be made.

The most obvious reason social media has not caught on as fast with student transporters, at least professionally, is a lack of available staff needed to moderate official social media channels. Amid the national bus driver shortage and with budget dollars ever precious, most transportation leaders are hard-pressed to make a case for a social media manager.

Another reason can be that most school districts—especially those of medium or large sizes—utilize media relations professionals to administer district-wide social channels like Twitter and Facebook. They tend to opt for posting about academic programs or the Friday night high school football game. If transportation updates are sent at all, they can be few and far between, commonly to share information about a crash.

Student transportation organizations that tend to realize the importance of social media are largely found in the private sector because the practice aligns with their digital marketing goals.

And while some school districts have turned to social media to communicate with parents, there has been a parallel jump in the availability of technology that provides real-time or near-real-time location and arrival time of school buses as well as student ridership verification. These updates have reduced the number of calls to transportation departments about late buses.


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A better use of social media by school districts could be in addressing labor shortages.

Savanah Urban, a recruiter and talent acquisitions consultant in Fort Collins, Colorado, said social media has become one of the most powerful tools employed by her firm when promoting open positions at school districts and attracting high-quality candidates for transportation and other classified positions. Social media campaigns have helped them maintain a steady workforce while ensuring their daily operations run smoothly and effectively.

“The significance of these efforts is immeasurable,” she continued. “With over 65 percent of candidates using their mobile phones to browse job opportunities and a projected increase from 308 million to 331 million social media users in the next 5 years, it is crucial to stay updated on the latest trends and marketing tactics in social media.”

According to Urban, who spoke at the STN EXPO Reno during a July 18 panel on creating supportive environments for transportation staffing, recruiting for the transportation sector, or otherwise, requires hands-on use of social media. She predicted that incorporating social media into their recruiting process will become the single most powerful tool and enhance their ability to find top-notch transportation candidates for the future.

Social media has been around for for over 20 years. Still, the cost of using social media means having a designated employee create relevant visual and written content to promote businesses, build their brands, and utilize the power of a digital omni-channel approach to reach more people.

Despite the first form of social media rearing its head in 1997 via a platform called Six Degrees, most marketers track the inception to the birth of Facebook in 2004. Fewer people today remember Six Degrees, but nearly everyone is familiar with Mark Zuckerberg and how he inspired other platforms.

The only other platform before Facebook was Canadian-owned StumbleUpon in 2001, but it shut its doors in 2018 despite racking up more than 40 million users. But likely only the savvy social media professional will remember the platform. Even LinkedIn, having started two years before Facebook, is mainly associated as being a professional hub for job seekers. LinkedIn tends to work best for B2B organizations seeking to reach a niche audience of professionals in their field and is a great tool for generating leads.

 

Here is a list of other platforms that Facebook has spurred:

 

• Reddit (2005)
• Twitter (2006)
• Tumblr (2007)
• Pinterest (2009)
• Instagram (2010)
• Google+ (2011-2019)
• TikTok (2016)

• Threads (2023)

 

-S.Z.

But a challenge social media professionals can face is the ability to track conversions for organic and even paid campaigns is not always straightforward. It can be uncertain if Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn ads truly drive sales—or new school bus driver applications. In short, even with modern web analytics tools, it can be difficult to prove that social media strategy is working.

While many KPIs, such as engagement in the form of likes and comments, can easily be trackable, much of the content strategy behind the use of social media is at the top of the marketing funnel. This means it requires a longitudinal approach and not a quick, “get hundreds of conversions overnight” sort of false promise. But many CEOs, executives, and then lump transportation directors and superintendents into this mix, can grow impatient. Many C-level leaders can have unrealistic marketing expectations, wanting speedy results when it comes to social media marketing. They don’t understand the way social media works.

The top of the marketing funnel is to drive brand awareness of products or services in the form of blogs, social media, videos, podcasts, webinars, infographics, and more. Many industries, while they somewhat grasp the importance of social media, still do not comprehend that paying someone to manage their social media marketing strategy can provide a long-term impact on brand building and extend a company’s or school district’s digital footprint across the internet.

This can be hard to comprehend for organizational leaders wanting tangible proof of ROI for their money spent on social media, let alone school bus transportation professionals who aren’t looking to track product sales and instead find themselves mired in day-to-day operations and unable or unwilling to see the big picture.

Michael Hush, the director of transportation for Nye County School District in Nevada, admitted to not utilizing social media to promote school bus driver jobs, which could potentially provide another avenue toward recruiting potential school bus drivers.

“I have found school the school districts I have worked for are not very creative when it comes to the use of social media and recruiting,” he told STN. “It may not always reach our typical candidate demographic, and there is a desire, as I have been told, to advertise somewhat equally on the main website across all open positions.”

Twenty years ago, advertisements leaned heavily on costly TV commercials and radio spots. Now that everything has gone digital, it has changed how marketing departments promote products or services. Social media tools such as Twitter are often used to share articles by news organizations and journalists. However, other industries, such as staffing companies and HR departments at various businesses, are no longer solely using LinkedIn for job posts but also announce jobs on Twitter and Instagram. They are also now making TikTok videos.

Hush shared that his school district has yet to maximize the potential of its social channels.

“[Transportation has] yet to gain access to that level of access to provide our customers with updated information,” Hush said.

So, while social media has changed how organizations market themselves, not all industries see the need to dedicate additional budget toward it. The ambiguity of return on investment calls into question the need for a dedicated employee strictly doing social media.

There is also uncertainty, Hush stated, of whether organic or paid ads on various social platforms will indeed attract school bus drivers specifically. But without a doubt, many parents of all generations are active on all social platforms, which can be an opportunity to further communicate school district news to interested parents.

Some districts, however, are trying to use social media to alert parents to bus issues. Jeffrey Thompson, director of transportation for St. Mary’s County of Leonardtown, Maryland, said his staff actively uses Twitter.

For example, the district Tweeted on May 25: “Bus 623 is running approximately 15 minutes late this afternoon on its BBES route.”

Because the school system uses school bus contractors, it does not typically use social media to post about needing new school bus driver applicants. Thompson, instead, mentioned the advantages of using Twitter for parents or alerting the public regarding school bus delays.

“Having the account provides another option of communication to parents, students, staff, and the general public,” Thompson said.


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Related: Georgia School Bus Driver Fired for Violating District Social Media Policy Raises Concerns

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