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Snow joke for commuters

December, 2010

It has become obvious that the UK simply cannot deal with the amount of snow that has fallen recently. Rachel Knight, Account Director at Maxim, considers how quickly a reputation can be damaged in such circumstances, whether it is deserved or not.

The odd snow day can be fun. When schools close and we are advised to avoid travel wherever possible, we can take pleasure in time spent at home without feeling too guilty about not making it into the office.

But the novelty, or at least that guilt-free feeling, can wear off fairly quickly and, determined to carry on despite the adverse weather conditions, we attempt to return to work. And this is where the problems begin.

Commuters travelling between London, Kent and Sussex have experienced severe disruption this week with a large percentage of Southeastern trains being delayed or cancelled altogether. While most people accept that there will be problems in such conditions, they want the companies responsible to keep them informed and help them plan their journeys.

Communication is key

Many commuters could be overhead at local stations complaining to Southeastern staff that they had checked the company’s website before leaving home but trains that were displayed as running normally were nowhere to be seen.

For customers, social media really comes into its own in such situations. Twitter has proved far more reliable than ‘official’ feeds or websites for not only the latest weather updates but also up-to-date travel information.

For companies such as Southeastern and Network Rail, disgruntled passengers tweeting about their ‘nightmare journeys’ are quickly retweeted, spreading the bad news and causing almost irreparable damage to the companies’ reputations.

Hashtags make it easy for users to find information – a quick search for #southeastern reveals thousands of angry 140 character rants blaming the company for anything from missing important meetings to being stranded overnight.

Social media sources

Journalists are increasingly using Twitter as a source for stories. Last year, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Kent after a series of tweets documenting my two hour drive to work in the snow. This week, one of my tweets commenting on the lack of information available at Tunbridge Wells station was picked up by and used, along with many others, in a piece entitled ‘Commuters left high and dry by Southeastern Trains’. As far as I know, my compliment about staff at Tonbridge station the following morning was not used in any such way.

BBC South East Today has led with snow-related stories every day this week. A spokesperson from Southeastern was apparently ‘unavailable for a live interview’ during an evening bulletin but MP Mark Reckless, who along with other MPs has ‘requested that Southeastern boss Charles Horton attends Westminster to explain current service failure’, was available to air his concerns for his constituents.

Of course, it may well have been the case that nobody was available. As a PR, there is nothing more frustrating than receiving a request for an interview and not being able to track down the client in good time but these things do happen.

Without Southeastern, I wouldn’t have made it into the office at all this week so I am grateful to the train drivers that struggled to work and the helpful staff that provided me with accurate information. The problem is, in the current situation there will be many more negative stories and the positive messages will get lost.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the snow for this winter and there will no doubt be many more stories of stranded motorists, cancelled trains and the cost to business. But the odd picture of children sledging, dogs buried in the snow and tales of surgeons trudging miles to get to work must surely warm the heart of even the coldest commuter.

And let’s not forget that there’s always a little fun to be had in such conditions, which leads me to the headline used here. Forgive me, but if journalists can get away with the odd snow pun then surely us lowly PRs can?

Rachel Knight - Director

Rachel Knight

Maxim / Director

posted in: advice, media relations, public relations, reputation management, social media,

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