Social media is a great tool for marketers, no question about it. But what about when things go wrong and the tables are turned?
I’ve argued before that in many ways, PRs are best placed to run social media operations and there are number of reasons why I think this is the case. One of the key reasons is that experienced public relations pros are adept at responding to situations – good and bad – and communicating messages quickly and effectively to a particular audience to inform, whilst taking strides to protect the reputation of the brand or business involved.
Last night, five Eurostar trains stopped working as they entered the Channel Tunnel, leaving the trains and passengers on board trapped. Many were trapped for hours in what must have been a scary and terrifying ordeal for them as well as their families and friends.
This is a nightmare situation for a company like Eurostar. And this is not the place to look at attributing blame. But, I do want to look at how the company approached one of those mainstays of traditional public relations: crisis communications.
Across the board, Eurostar seems to have fallen down on it’s duty to its customers, by failing to adequately transmit information.
And nowhere has this been more evident that on social media and, in particular, on Twitter. Mike Butcher at Techcrunch has covered the unfolding of this story in detail. But, essentially, there were no updates on either the @Little_Break or @Eurostar_Uk Twitter accounts as the crisis unfolded. In a twist to the story, it transpires the latter account wasn’t even an official Eurostar channel – it has now been suspended – and @eurostar is used by someone in Shanghai!
The @Little_Break account wasn’t updated until 11.30 today (Saturday) – a full 16 hours after the first incident happened! WTF!? If we have learned anything about social media, it is that it works best in real-time.
What does this situation teach us about the handling of social media when things go wrong:
- It doesn’t matter what you want the account to be used for – it looks as though the @Little_Break account was being used for some sort of social media marketing campaign. Which is fine. But the public don’t put brands into boxes like this. If you have a social media channel then the public will see this as your brand on Twitter. So expect them to get in touch with you as they see fit, and not necessarily in the way you would like
- Monitoring, monitoring, monitoring – it doesn’t matter if it is a Friday night before Christmas, the public will still use social media and will expect companies – if they are using the channel, and increasingly even if they are not – to be listening
- Social media is real-time – we all know this, so why did it take Eurostar 16 hours to update their Twitter account? There is no excuse, especially as real-time take centre stage with Google transmitting the whole story as it unfolds
- Social media shouldn’t be an afterthought in crisis comms – as all good PRs know, in an emergency, you need to get clear, transparent and helpful information out to people as quickly as possible. And that means social media too
- Advanced planning is crucial – when something like this happens, there isn’t time to start putting plans together, it needs to have been thought about in advance. It looks as though this didn’t happen. Having social media as part of your crisis communications action plan is vital
- When things go wrong, who’s in charge – with this confusion over ‘who is best placed to use social media’ within organisations, it is no surprise that when things go wrong, social media could fall through the cracks. Is it the PR, ‘social media’, SEO, marketing or customer service team that should be in control, pushing the agenda to the fore?
Obviously this is a horrid situation for Eurostar and it is easy to sit and criticise from a distance. But the fact is that this has not been handled at all well and their reputation, their PR, has taken a serious knock.
UPDATE: It seems this is a topic that isn’t going to go away any time soon. Already there are some great posts from Dirk, Rachel, Mark and Neville on the subject. As Dirk says, expect this to be coming to a social media case study near you soon…
UPDATE: Eurostar CEO Richard Brown has released a video apology on the Little Breaks blog site – it’s a good effort and sounds pretty sincere.
UPDATE: I was very careful not to mention any agencies associated with Eurostar in the above post. At a time like this, decisions will be made at a senior level within the business. An agency will only be able to sit and advise to their best ability. If this is ignored, there isn’t much to be done. And it seems this is pretty much what happened. In a very honest post, Robin Grant from Wearesocial, a social media agency, has given a very open overview of things from their perspective. It’s worth a read as it perfectly highlights some of the organisational challenges I referred to above.
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