Southern Rail and the RMT Union are locked in a dispute. One side took to Twitter to encourage passengers to tell the other how they are feeling. It didn't go as expected.
by Dan Slee
So, when does an organisation pick a fight online? When is it right to point a finger and bellow that he, she or they are to blame?
As someone who looked after a corporate account for five years this question was one we crossed very often and always came to the same conclusion. Never.
Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of times when I wanted to pick a fight, rise to the bait and get stuck in. But in all that time I never did. I counted to 10 and was polite.
Which is why I was so surprised to see the Southern Rail tweet that pointed a finger at Trades Unions they are in dispute with and encouraged people to tweet at them.
The tweet co-incided with full-page newspaper ads in the Metro. It was clear thought was put behind the status update rather than it being one rogue tweet.
And what was the response?
.@SouthernRailUK When people waited three hours at Brighton last night, was that because of strikes?— Cr O'Grizimov (@Mr_Ogrizovic) October 3, 2016
@SouthernRailUK my connecting train home has been cancelled every day under revised timetable. And now you expect me to advocate for you? ⁉️— Nik Fletcher (@nikf) October 3, 2016
Probably not quite what was expected. Negative BBC coverage ensued and Twitter went wild.
Should you ever try and start a Twitter storm?
But it got me thinking about when a Twitter storm may work as a strategy. As in any dispute, there are people who take one side or another. I'm scratching my head as to why trying to bring a Twitter storm down on your opponent would be helpful.
Indeed, there was discussion online that singinging out individuals may have broken Twitter's terms of service.
It made me think of times when it was right and proper to point the finger at individuals or an organisation. It may be that I've spent part of my career in the public sector who can be more risk-averse in scenarios like this. There's no chance something like this would work on behalf of local government, government or the NHS, for example. People have a habit of siding with the individual rather than the large organisation who is pointing the finger.
Playing with fire
So, I've been thinking this through. Maybe there are circumstances. Like pointing the finger at drink drivers. Or people who use mobile phones in cars. A group of people and not individuals. But even then I can't help reach the conclsion that this is playing with fire.
What was the reaction to the Southern Rail tweet?
Let's look at the science and the call to action. By 6pm there was 95 likes for the tweet and 200 uniformly negative responses. In a 31-minute period running up to 6.20pm on the day it was sent, seven supportive tweets complaining to the RMT Union were outweighed by 93 negative ones.
Slightly unscientific metrics admittedly but figures that would make people think twice to doi something similar.
Spare a thought for the pasengers... and the comms team
Judging by the tone of tweets from passengers there is much to feel sorry for them about.
The comms team at Southern Rail will have had better days. Indeed, several tweets expressed sympathy with the lowly comms team member that posted the tweet. Others tweets aimed at the comms operation either sailed close or over the line. But try stuff and learn from it is a good maxim. Fail forwards.
But let's not forget there's a duty of care to the people operating the corporate Twitter account too.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
Picture credit: Musee McCord Museum / Flickr.