About two months ago Transport For London (TfL) – the government owned company running the public transportation system in London – launched a social networking site called Together For London. The purpose was to gather ideas from customers about how to make London a better place. Registered users can create an avatar (called “Little Londoner”), start and participate in discussions, and even set up a campaign. So far the site has started 113 discussions, 176 campaigns and received about 200,000 pageviews. While Transport For London claims it is too early to judge and numbers are positive, some press articles have called this a failure.
I do agree that it is probably early to draw any conclusion, but as I have said many times in my research (see How Governments Can Use Social Networks, login required), social networks that are initiated by government are unlikely to be as successful as those initiated by the public. I bet that, in the long run, customer groups started in social networks such as Facebook will become more compelling and influential than anything TfL can come up with. The intent is certainly noble, but I’m afraid there is little that governments can do to be seen as creators of places to “socialize”.
Questions to ask in this case are:
- what is the compelling event that should make this attractive to customers, and
- why should they remain compelled to participate (what my collegue Anthony Bradley calls “magnetism” of a community).
In absence of clear answers, this network may have a difficult life.