Eurostar – a communications failure not a social media failure

As hundreds of Eurostar passengers languish, Eurostar ignores Twitter

That’s the headline on Mike Butcher’s Techcrunch article – I think it is missing the point. I’m finding myself getting annoyed (probably irrationally) about the tone of certain people on Twitter regarding the Eurostar. The problem is not a social media or twitter failure, it’s a complete communication failure on behalf of Eurostar. Twitter should probably be the least of their worries over what else seems to be failing, although there seems to be a belief that if only the Eurostar Twitter account was working then many of the comms issues would be sorted.

Eurostar
Eurostar

Two issues I see here. Of the 2000 or so people still stuck on trains, very few are likely to be using Twitter. I did a random sampling of tweets mentioning the issue and found 3 people who are are a train. Even if it’s a 100 people, not really enough to do efficient communication. Secondly, after being stuck on a train without power, I’m guessing if they have phone power left, they are using it to connect with family and friends, not with Twitter.

Here’s where I see some failures are:

  • What appears to be a depressing lack of onboard communication to let people their know what is happening. This comes from the TV and news reports
  • Not organising transport to get the people off the trains, or moving back to London.
  • The inability to quickly update their website with news. I was looking at this last night and there was no-way I way I could see to get arrival or departure information. The news was not updated about the situation until late this morning. Not just about the stuck trains, but about the cancellations of today’s trains, which impact many more people.
  • failure to notify today’s travellers directly
  • the failure to be all over the news and other broadcast media to get information out to as many people as possible
  • Finally, the failure to use other comms methods, including Twitter to amplify their message

I feel the focus on social media is in a wrong place. Mike calls out the 2 Eurostar accounts he could find eurostar_uk and little_break. The first of these looks looked like a general marketing account, probably run by there marketing team, not necessarily the first team on call when there’s an operational issue. (Update: Between starting this post and publishing the eurostar_uk twitter account has gone away and Techcrunch is reporting it is not official) The second is a campaign account, set up specifically for a single marketing campaign by agency We are Social, who in all likelihood have no remit to do anything else EXCEPT that campaign and will not be in any comms loop. As it is, they are working hard to get information and updating it this morning. Update: Robin Grant of We are social responds

Now, Mike does have a point; brands need to be aware of what communications channels are there and the PR Crisis Management team need to have access to them all, even if they are just campaign related, or marketing related. Access details need to be ‘in the manual’ Just because the original purpose of a channel was marketing, does not mean it should not be co-opted when necessary. But Twitter is not going to save the day for Eurostar, they have far bigger issues.

PS: I spell checked everything except the title!!!!! fixed now :-(

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21 Responses to Eurostar – a communications failure not a social media failure

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  4. Jon Worth says:

    One important point you missed: when the regular comms have failed, Eurostar passengers have turned to Twitter as a way to find information, work out what services are running etc. My train was cancelled this morning and without Twitter I would have had no clue what’s going on. So it’s as a result of that debate brewing on Twitter (that’s universally critical of Eurostar) that people are suggesting the company should reply there.

  5. Rachel says:

    I was focusing on Eurostar communicating out. From all the comments I’ve seen, I entirely agree that Twitter has been used to communicate between passengers trying to find out information in a pool of deafening silence from officialdom.

    But I strongly believe that the number of people affected by this who are on Twitter is small so that should not be the priority channel in a situation where they apparently have no comms channel already. We are social have tried to turn their Twitter feed into a news source and I think they’ve done marvellously considering I’m pretty sure that crisis management was not in their remit (disclosure here – I know some of them).

    As I say above, I don’t think social media would have been their priority given all the other failures, especially of they had to task someone to ‘learn’ twitter because there was some conversation there. If it had been an existing channel, then yes, But as it is, they needed to focus on getting their spokespeople out there and the info on their website as mass comms and communicating direct with passengers. Not learning new tools.

  6. Rachel – you make some good points here and of course the overall communication issues are there for us all to see. But, don’t let them off on the social media side of things. The public doesn’t care what you (as a brand) ‘want’ to use Twitter for. If you are a brand on Twitter you need to be ready to use this as part of your comms strategy – especially when things go wrong. It is a basic fact that trad PRs know well.

    My thoughts in full here: http://www.dannywhatmough.com/2009/12/19/eurostarfail-social-media-is-for-good-times-and-bad/

  7. Jon Worth says:

    Fair point. But also don’t underestimate the impact in the terminals of people with computers on Twitter (me) passing messages on to loads of others around who weren’t online…

    I wonder what We Are Social have or have not provided for Eurostar. Judging by Eurostar’s problems in the past (this is not the first time trains have broken down in the cold) have they provided consultancy for a social media approach for Eurostar that doesn’t actually contain any aspect of crisis communications? If so I wonder what they actually have advised for the use of Twitter and the Facebook fan page, as neither are especially good or active, even at the best of times.

    And I say all of this as a railway geek, internet geek and Eurostar frequent traveller (Brit resident in Brussels with clients in London).

  8. Pingback: #eurostarfail Social media is for good times AND bad — Danny Whatmough.com

  9. Chris Reed says:

    Interesting post Rachel – I hadn’t realised that when I tweeted on the way to a family do this morning they’d be in a blog post by the time I got home. I’m also not sure if I’m one of the people who annyoned you on Twitter, but if so, that’s the perils of 140 characters of social media in realtime I guess ;)

    Anyway – can I clarify one thing. I did not and do not think that simply by using Twitter, Eurostar’s [comms] problems will be solved. Rather that Twitter is en entirely appropriate medium for crisis comms, and it had been underused when I tweeted this out earlier today…

    It will usually be much more appropriate for the CEO to be either on-site fixing the problem, or on-site doing national broadcast interviews, but any comms team should take advantage of all the tools available (of which Twitter is one of the best – as is a Flip camera imho) to get its side of the story out in real time.

    So in this case I still think it might have been appropriate to use Twitter to get news to passengers (who still had some signal and battery), people waiting to travel and a whole range of interested outsiders. And for them to cascade that news to those around them. Even if there weren’t many people tweeting from the trains (you’re right, there weren’t) I bet there would have been many more (like Jon) who could and would have followed Eurostar’s tweets had information been disseminated this way.

    You’re also right that Eurostar had plenty of other things to worry about today – which have been well documented (and will continue to be), but I truly believe that today is something of a watershed in crisis communications: social media – especially Twitter – should now be at the heart of all major crisis comms plans, not an afterthought.

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  11. Good post Chris. The feedback on the Techcrunch piece has now moved past the point of no return and the knives are out. This is a little short sighted. As you say, and as Danny’s post points out – the lessons are Eurostar’s. They need to get a little integration going on… and they probably need help from their agencies – all of whom I’m fairly sure are doing good work within their remit.

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  13. Craig McGill says:

    I made some points (which are similar to your own) here – 12 PR and Social Media lessons from Eurostar #prfail – but yeah there’s a lot here to learn for Eurostar and others. We Are Social are taking an unfair pounding too, which is making me start to wonder: we demand information and timelyness from organisations, but that hasn’t stopped people gunning for We Are Social, so would it be unfair to start demanding that people RTF posts and articles so they are being informed instead of just flaming?

  14. Let’s not forget that earlier on this year Eurostar services were the only ones that WERE running. And it’s a good thing the trains cut out on the ground, unlike the air travel services which are equally affected by the weather! I know for a fact that they’ve already started modifications on the Eurostar shields and are due to resume service as soon as today or tomorrow.

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  17. Great post. I was responsible for Twitter strategy for Virgin Trains. In my experience, people need to have a reason to use social media, and Twitter in particular. Once people find out they can seek out information for themselves – and this is the key point – they feel less out of control in a situation and more likely to feel at least someone cares about their plight.

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  19. Can I just say I read the first paragraph and thought “YES!!!! FINALLY!!” if I had been stuck under the tunnel I would have been ringing my family, not posting on twitter, you know? And news/radio>twitter, in my opinion. PLUS the services actually weren’t halted indefinitely over that period. All the main stations gave out the info, and even after the after all the snow we’ve had, they were still running yesterday. They’re just reduced which makes it safer but doesn’t cancel the services altogether. The main Ebbsfleet website, and all the other station websites say all the info.

    The twitter thing is REALLY annoying me, because we went OVER to France the day of the first problems, and GOT back yesterday, and somehow missed getting stuck both times.

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