This news story caught my eye yesterday.
Southern Rail have an ongoing dispute with the RMT union. Strikes have taken place and more are planned.
So yesterday they sent this tweet, encouraging commuters to tweet the RMT, to tell them how the strike action is making them feel. They even had their own hashtag for the ‘campaign’: #SouthernRailBackonTrack. A search of that tells its own story. Of course the unforgiving nature of Twitter soon led to another hashtag: #SouthernFail.
Putting aside any personal views on the dispute itself and the resulting industrial action, you have to wonder who thought this was a good idea. How this idea made it through the gate. Clearly a little group think going on. You can almost hear the conversation….
This social media stuff everyone keeps talking about….. let’s do something with that!
Here’s the thing about social media. It can be a truly awesome thing. If I wrote a list of everything that social can do, its potential benefits, what it has done for me, I’d be here all day and this would be a very long blog post. But with every potential reward comes risk. We have all seen the headlines, seen people use it in a way that does them no favours or backfires spectacularly. Damaging brands, damaging careers.
This is one of those occasions. A scroll down through the responses to the above tweet shows pretty much exclusive support for the union and the workforce, and distain for the organisation and this particular tactic. This is basically the social media equivalvent of a couple having a row in Ikea on a Sunday afternoon played out for all to see.
I can only imagine that the team running the Twitter feed yesterday were undertaking a fairly epic #facepalm. I very much doubt this was their idea.
The RMT have come out of this pretty well. Their Twitter feed is now full of retweets of supportive comments and criticism of the campaign.
Southern Rail appear not to have replied to any of the dialogue resulting from their original tweet, moving swiftly back to talking to passengers about delays. So just in case someone at Southern Rail needs some social media advice, here it is in brief:
- Don’t pick fights online unless you have a very good reason to do so and it is an actual thought out strategy with balanced risks. Maybe this was… but somehow I doubt it.
- If you do start this sort of dialogue, be prepared to continue it and respond to comments appropriately and not just ignore them.
- Have a strategy for a hashtag hijack or a negative response to your campaign and act on it, fast.
- Apologise if you got it wrong.
For all that I love about Twitter, it is most definitely not the place to sort out employee relations issues with your workforce.
This is pretty symptomatic of the way Southern Rail have mismanaged this industrial dispute. From day one they seem to have been out of their depth and it’s almost unimaginable that any one with people management experience would blunder into an action like this. Despite massive public backlash they seem impervious to the way the travelling customer is feeling about this dispute. Feels like bad management from top to bottom.
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