Twitter campaign derails
They say it is important to learn from your own mistakes.
But sometimes it is more effective to learn from the errors made by others, particularly if it involves a self-induced PR and social media disaster.
Of course, when you are already regularly in the news and rarely for positive reasons, the last thing you need is to generate your own negative headlines.
But that is exactly what happened to Southern Rail this week when its PR activity well and truly hit the buffers.
The firm produced a Twitter campaign encouraging its customers to challenge the upcoming Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) strikes.
Headlined ‘Let’s strike back’, it told its customers to tell the union ‘how rail strikes make you feel’ complete with the hashtag #SouthernBackOnTrack – a bold move for a rail operator with a feed which is often full of complaints from customers.
So it was not surprising that it received what can only really be described as a backlash.
Instead of messages of support, customers used their 140 characters to point out that they constantly faced delays on non-strike days; list recent examples of explanations for poor running services; and accuse it of trying to bully the union.
Others predicted, quite early on, the hashtag would not go the way the company’s PR team envisaged.
And a quick search on Twitter would suggest it completely lost control of the hashtag, with politicians such as Caroline Lucas accusing Southern of ‘trying to shift the blame’.
As is so often the case, the social media fail was picked up by the traditional media generating less than flattering headlines in the Daily Telegraph, City AM and the BBC website among others.
The dubious social media activity was supported by newspaper advertisements and posters. Such was the customer backlash it later emerged Southern asked for the posters to be ‘removed and destroyed’. A leaked email seen by the BBC said the activity had caused ‘extremely negative sentiment’ and that a decision had been made to cancel the poster campaign.
Yet despite this, the company has refused to apologise for its actions saying “We make no apologies for this campaign – our aim was to get the debate going.”
In reality there was very little debate, with Southern’s points lost amid the volume of dissenting voices.
Any attempts to ‘get back on track’ through PR had been completely derailed.
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