Southern Rail decided to put a GCSE work experience student in charge of its Twitter account. Amazingly, the gamble paid off.
With half the country- or at least a good proportion of those in the south of England- hating the company, it was the job nobody in their right mind would really want. And perhaps that’s how it landed on the shoulders of a GCSE student to take the mantel.
We have written several blog posts over the years about the importance of treating corporate social media channels with the respect they so clearly demand and deserve, with a frequent example being not handing keys to your comms kingdom over to inexperienced employees who don’t fully grasp the responsibility that comes with controlling Twitter and Facebook (and the rest). Companies still do it, though, and in most cases they learn the hard way that a consummate pro should be manning these platforms.
Enter Southern Rail, and the most impressive exception to any rule we’ve heard in quite some time.
The train operator has had its name dragged through the mud and back again in the last couple of years, with poor timekeeping and an ongoing dispute with unions over the need for conductors leading to serious passenger frustration. On the London Victoria to Brighton line, for example, at one point it felt like services were more likely to be cancelled than actually operate.
With these problems in public perception, you might think it unwise for the firm to offer their work ex, known only as Eddie, an opportunity to field queries and questions on Twitter. The young lad jumped at the chance, though, and what happened next is truly impressive.
Seizing the opportunity to do what online does best and take the Mickey, after Eddie declared himself ‘ready to answer your questions’ the British floodgates opened. ‘Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses’, ‘what should I have for dinner’, and ‘do you think Jon Snow is going to meet Daenerys and Tyrion and rule Westeros’ were amongst the quandaries aimed at him.
The latter led to our favourite response from the wee man:
“I’m sorry,” Eddie tweeted. “I never get a chance to watch Channel 4 News.”
The young boy took it all in his stride, offering advice where it was necessary and witty comebacks when appropriate. He went down so well that ScotRail, another train firm blighted by poor customer feedback, have offered him a stint in their office on the same channel, and by the afternoon he even had his own hashtag- #askeddie. Understandably then, there have been calls to give him a permanent position, with British Transport Police noting how he was ‘smashing it’.
Needless to say, this example hasn’t really changed our thoughts in terms of not giving your Twitter feed to the least experienced person in the office. But what it does show is having fun and communicating on the same level and with the same tone as the public can work wonders in winning favour. Eddie should also be commended for his clear appreciation of where to draw the line- managing to avoid a question about national rail privatisation.
Perhaps it’s his innocence and naivety- the boy is still only 16-years-young- perhaps its his digital native status, meaning he understands social media through instinct, rather than learnings. Either way, if you’re looking for a good example of how to respond to people and potentially make some friends- whether you need them as much as Southern do right now- then you could do far worse than consider what we like to call Eddie’s Law…
Remember Eddie’s Law
*Always be courteous but don’t be scared to have some fun with people when the time suits
*Don’t get frustrated or annoyed if engagement doesn’t seem to match what the company wants- embrace it anyway
*Respond to everyone, no matter how inane or incensed they seem to be
Looking for more advice on PR, social media, and marketing? Why not get in contact or submit a brief to inject a little ingeniousness into your brand.