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Social Media's Role in the Eurostar Crisis: Case study from The Vivid Consultancy

Social Media's Role in the Eurostar Crisis: Case study from The Vivid Consultancy

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Published by vividholly
On Saturday 19th December 2009, five Eurostar trains broke down due to the freezing weather. This event left more than 40,000 passengers stranded on both sides of the Channel and around 2,000 people trapped in the tunnel for several hours.

This case study examines the role of social media during and after the event. It also discusses the benefits of integrating social media channels into the overall communications strategy, particularly in the event of a crisis
On Saturday 19th December 2009, five Eurostar trains broke down due to the freezing weather. This event left more than 40,000 passengers stranded on both sides of the Channel and around 2,000 people trapped in the tunnel for several hours.

This case study examines the role of social media during and after the event. It also discusses the benefits of integrating social media channels into the overall communications strategy, particularly in the event of a crisis

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Published by: vividholly on Jan 14, 2010
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11/05/2010

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Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis
Case Study
On Saturday 19th December 2009, five Eurostar trains broke down due to thefreezing weather. This event left more than 40,000 passengers stranded on bothsides of the Channel and around 2,000 people trapped in the tunnel for severalhours. Customers, angry and frustrated at the lack of information about what washappening, turned to social media platforms like Twitter to vent their frustration.
This case study examines the role of social media during and after theevent. It also discusses the benefits of integrating social media channelsinto the overall communications strategy, particularly in the event of acrisis.
A spokesman for Eurostar stated that, although they did have a plan in place formanaging issues of this type, they were unprepared for multiple breakdowns onthat scale:
“Eurostar admitted it had been aware of the issue for a while, but maintained that whereas in the past it had affected one train at a time, last weekend wasunprecedented in having so many trains break down. Lesley Retallack, a Eurostar spokesman, said there had been similar incidents "on one or two occasions" but that this time it had occurred on an unprecedented scale and at one of the busiest times of year for the company.” 
 
Aside from concerns about the safety of the passengers trapped in the tunnel,which is currently being investigated in an independent review, Eurostar werecriticised for their failure to communicate properly with those involved:
“You can’t treat people like that, [leaving them] without information
,” said Frenchecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo, speaking to French television crews after theevent. The events have sparked fresh debate about the role of social media as a tool for PRand communications because of its capacity for real-time communication withcustomers in a crisis situation.
Social media has an important role to play in crisis communications.
Eurostar's social media presence at the time of the crisis was limited to a singlecampaign. Managed by online conversation agencyWe Are Social, their 'LittleBreak, Big Difference' project focused on the benefits of short breaks to Brussels,Paris and Lille using awebsite, Facebook page and Twitter account. 1
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case StudyHolly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy
 
 To the agency's credit, they explained to the Eurostar team the importance of updating existing crisis plans to incorporate social media:
"We talked to them about the need for to put a real-time social media monitoringand responding programme and crisis plan in place, and proposed a conversationaudit and consultancy project to help them implement such a programme. However as adapting their existing processes had wider implications across the business,they decided to start small by moving forward with the Little break, Big differencecampaign, to learn from the experience of engaging in conversations in socialmedia."
Robin Grant, We Are Social(To read the full article please clickhere.)Eurostar's decision to 'start small' is typical of many companies looking to test thewaters of social media. They believed that by beginning their social mediaintegration with an isolated campaign, they would be able to observe the benefits of online engagement without risking the brand's overall reputation.
Planning for a crisis should involve integration across all departments
Had Eurostar integrated social media with its other channels of communication andplanned for its use in a crisis it could have been instrumental in aiding passengers.For example, their Twitter account could have been used to provide up-to-dateinformation and communicate with stranded passengers.WeAreSocial stepped outside their brief as the crisis unfolded, and began using the@little_break Twitter account soon after to communicate directly with passengers.However, their response was reactive instead of being part of a carefullyconsidered, proactive plan that gave them immediate access to the informationthey needed.
Conversations about your brand will occur online whether you’re there ornot.
 The passengers themselves turned to social media to describe their negativeexperiences. This began almost immediately, and continued after the crisis wasresolved as they reflected on what had occurred:
"There was no information for passengers stranded in London that night: no hotelinformation, no hotel vouchers, no coaches laid on. When you phoned up the BritishEurostar customer care number there was only an answerphone message about booking tickets over the Christmas period. The impression I had was that Eurostar 
2
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case StudyHolly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy
 
were trying to deal with this at a minimum of expense."
 Blog postfrom a passengerinvolved in the incidentColette Ballouwas one of the passengers stuck in the Channel Tunnel. As thefounder of Ballou PR, the agency responsible for Facebook's PR in France, she wasperfectly positioned to watch events unfold from a communications perspective.She turned to Twitter to share her experiences with her followers:
"I am watching a case study in horrible communications (otherwise known as PRdisaster) unfold from the front lines" ( 
4.30am Dec 19th 2009)
"Shocked at how unprepared and uncommunicative Eurostar was. Eurostar failed tocommunicate with passengers and social media told the truth and got it tomainstream media fast."
(3.15pm Dec 19th 2009)
Failure to protect your online reputation can have far-reachingconsequences.
Colette's comments were also featured in the national press as they reported on theincident, illustrating how comments made online have the potential to reach farbeyond the web. Another potentially damaging issue is that there were twounofficial Twitter addresses, @eurostar and @eurostar_uk. Both are unrelated to thecompany, which left customers searching for relevant information frustrated. The need to protect your brand on sites like Twitter is reminiscent of the rush tosecure branded domain names for company websites. It is vital to move to protectyour online reputation from the outset to ensure that your organisation is notincorrectly associated with rogue accounts.
The lessons from Eurostar’s experiences are clear - social media needs tobe integrated into the overall communications plan from the outset. Doeverything you can to ensure you protect your name online and don’t limityour social media use to proactive marketing campaigns. Instead, use it tocommunicate directly with customers to solve their problems before theyuse the medium to vent their negative experiences and frustrations.Please feel free to use, share and distribute this article. However, pleasethink before you print. Any comments or feedback would be greatlyappreciated.
Case study compiled by Holly Knowlman at The Vivid Consultancy.3
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case StudyHolly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy

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