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Honolulu’s Bus Awareness Experiment

This Thursday, April 12, Honolulu is trying something it’s never done before: experimenting with a real world social media marketing campaign by reaching out to local geeks, social media influencers, students, and pretty much anyone with a smart phone. With next to no budget.

Thursday’s focus is on getting the word out about the three mobile and web apps aimed at riders of TheBus, the bus system that is the public transit alternative to driving on the island of O`ahu. So far, a couple dozen of Honolulu’s geeks, techies, students, bus enthusiasts, and twitterati have signed up to catch TheBus from wherever they live to Kaka`ako using the bus apps to navigate their trajectory. Wielding social media, they’ll facetweetpathphotodocument the route to a couple of Kaka`ako’s groovy co-working spaces, The Greenhouse and R&D. The riders will terminate their bus rides at The Greenhouse, where lunch will be provided by Insomnia Café, and where they’ll get a chance to give their feedback to the app developers.

Along the route, the Mayor will jump on board at Honolulu Hale (City Hall) about 11 a.m. Needless to say, we’re thrilled that the Mayor is so willing to give of his time to create buzz around public transit and the free apps that Honolulu’s techies have built. We’re also stoked that the latest of the three bus apps, DaBus, was created by two City employees to help riders maneuver TheBus, an outcome of CityCamp Honolulu in December.

Thursday is a first-of-its-kind marketing-meets-community experiment aimed at introducing the City’s Media Team to social media as a way to get the word out.  The seed for this idea was planted near the end of our five-week residency in February, when I met for lunch with Tara Coomans, an enthusiastic board member of the Social Media Club’s Hawai`i chapter. We talked about my desire to help the City better communicate with citizens. There had to be a better way to engage citizens than press releases in the Star Advertiser (Honolulu’s sole newspaper) or airing City Council proceedings on `Olelo Community TV.  Tara’s energy was inspiring, and her creativity paired with local tech evangelist, Burt Lum’s, led to an exciting avalanche of mounting ideas — which led to Thursday’s Geeks on DaBus event. It was a promising win to hear the idea was received with support and enthusiasm by the City Cabinet when Forest Frizzell, Code for America’s city counterpart extraordinaire in Honolulu, presented it.

But this is just the beginning. We’re hoping the success of this maiden social media circuit can inspire the City’s media team to similarly employ creative ideas for low-budget, large-buzz communication with citizens. So if you’re in Honolulu, help make it a success by participating this Thursday. Sign up at http://dabushnl.eventbrite.com.