Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis

Case Study
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. Customers, angry and frustrated at the lack of information about what was happening, turned to social media platforms like Twitter to vent their frustration. 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. A spokesman for Eurostar stated that, although they did have a plan in place for managing issues of this type, they were unprepared for multiple breakdowns on that 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 was unprecedented 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.” The Independent Aside from concerns about the safety of the passengers trapped in the tunnel, which is currently being investigated in an independent review, Eurostar were criticised for their failure to communicate properly with those involved: “You can’t treat people like that, [leaving them] without information,” said French ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo, speaking to French television crews after the event. The events have sparked fresh debate about the role of social media as a tool for PR and communications because of its capacity for real-time communication with customers 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 single campaign. Managed by online conversation agency We Are Social, their 'Little Break, Big Difference' project focused on the benefits of short breaks to Brussels, Paris and Lille using a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. 1
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case Study Holly 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 monitoring and responding programme and crisis plan in place, and proposed a conversation audit 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 difference campaign, to learn from the experience of engaging in conversations in social media." Robin Grant, We Are Social (To read the full article please click here.) Eurostar's decision to 'start small' is typical of many companies looking to test the waters of social media. They believed that by beginning their social media integration 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 and planned 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-date information 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 carefully considered, proactive plan that gave them immediate access to the information they needed. Conversations about your brand will occur online whether you’re there or not. The passengers themselves turned to social media to describe their negative experiences. This began almost immediately, and continued after the crisis was resolved as they reflected on what had occurred: "There was no information for passengers stranded in London that night: no hotel information, no hotel vouchers, no coaches laid on. When you phoned up the British Eurostar 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 Study Holly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy

were trying to deal with this at a minimum of expense." Blog post from a passenger involved in the incident Colette Ballou was one of the passengers stuck in the Channel Tunnel. As the founder of Ballou PR, the agency responsible for Facebook's PR in France, she was perfectly 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 PR disaster) unfold from the front lines" (4.30am Dec 19th 2009) "Shocked at how unprepared and uncommunicative Eurostar was. Eurostar failed to communicate with passengers and social media told the truth and got it to mainstream media fast." (3.15pm Dec 19th 2009) Failure to protect your online reputation can have far-reaching consequences. Colette's comments were also featured in the national press as they reported on the incident, illustrating how comments made online have the potential to reach far beyond the web. Another potentially damaging issue is that there were two unofficial Twitter addresses, @eurostar and @eurostar_uk. Both are unrelated to the company, which left customers searching for relevant information frustrated. The need to protect your brand on sites like Twitter is reminiscent of the rush to secure branded domain names for company websites. It is vital to move to protect your online reputation from the outset to ensure that your organisation is not incorrectly associated with rogue accounts.

The lessons from Eurostar’s experiences are clear - social media needs to be integrated into the overall communications plan from the outset. Do everything you can to ensure you protect your name online and don’t limit your social media use to proactive marketing campaigns. Instead, use it to communicate directly with customers to solve their problems before they use the medium to vent their negative experiences and frustrations. Please feel free to use, share and distribute this article. However, please think before you print. Any comments or feedback would be greatly appreciated. Case study compiled by Holly Knowlman at The Vivid Consultancy. 3
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case Study Holly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy

Email: holly@thevividconsultancy.com Phone: 01684 854409 Twitter: @wearevivid
Vivid (www.thevividconsultancy.com) was formed in April 2007 by Hilary Allison and Caroline Rawlinson. The consultancy focuses on helping its clients make the most of their relationships with the people who matter to them. That includes customers, the media, employees, opinion-formers and stakeholders. Our services span the complete communications mix – from Board level strategic management consultancy to practical solutions.

4
Social media’s role in the Eurostar crisis: Case Study Holly Knowlman @ The Vivid Consultancy

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.