A regional train operating company’s attempts to get passengers to direct their social media ire at a union appears to have gone off the rails, with many Twitter users taking the opportunity to voice their frustration at the operator instead.
In a Tweet late on Sunday night using the headline ‘Let’s Strike Back’, Southern attempted to go headlong into social media warfare with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which is proposing several strikes over the next few weeks.
— Southern (@SouthernRailUK) October 3, 2016
Southern also placed a double-page advert in Monday morning’s Metro, which is freely available at many railway stations across the UK, in an attempt to boost the social media traction of the campaign and get commuters speaking out against the RMT Union.
The move certainly received plenty of interaction but, sadly for Southern, a weighty proportion of it did not quite express the desired viewpoints:
and I'd rather be delayed by a strike than your company's inability to hire enough staff
— Matt Woosnam (@MattWoosie) October 3, 2016
you brought this on yourselves. We, your customers are suffering. Let's be radical. Employ more staff
— Martin 'Snazzy' Cox (@MartinCox0155) October 3, 2016
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
— Ellie Awford (@EllieAwford) October 3, 2016
Opinions ranging from the sarcastic to the scathing were directed at Southern, with many of those commenting clearly feeling that the operator was not worthy of supporting.
It was certainly an audacious move from Southern, but perhaps a somewhat naïve and foolish one. For a company to expect its customers to rally round on its behalf, it would need to have excellent relations with them. Southern’s publicity in the last year or so, however, has not always been tickety-boo.
In January 2015, it was revealed that a particular Southern service failed to run on time on every single attempt during 2014, and four out of five Southern trains failed to run as per their timetable in the period from April 2015 to March 2016. More recently, an “amended timetable” has seen Southern axe 350 services a day, and the firm’s lack of punctuality has even found itself accused of causing commuters to lose their jobs.
All this considered, it seems hardly surprising that train-using Southerners were less than supportive of their regional operator’s anti-union stance.
The lesson here is that, while companies should not be afraid to be bold on social media, they ultimately need to back up their online bravado with strong performance if it is to resonate with their customers. Given Southern’s recent bad publicity, and the fact that it has the joint-lowest customer satisfaction levels in the country, a little more humility may have been in order before the campaign went full steam ahead.