Did you read about the 15-year-old work experience kid who took control of the Southern Rail twitter account a few weeks back?
Eddie of #AskEddie fame was disarming, honest, witty and a refreshing human touch in an otherwise hammered twitter feed. Southern Rail is arguably the most reviled of all the train operators for its repeated incidences of awful service, persistent delays and union clashes.
It’s hard to be that angry with a 15-year-old work experience kid if you’re stuck on the platform again wondering when you’re ever going to get home. A smart move for some temporary respite, but what are the long term outcomes?
Just two days after #AskEddie started trending, Southern Rail’s owner was slapped with a £13.4m fine for its poor service. It was a reminder of Southern Rail’s real issues. No amount of teenage Twitter japes are going to placate years of underperformance. PR veneer can’t fix that.
Your communications strategy is the perfect place to inform and dictate needed changes in your product or service. Remember, your brand is what your customers say it is, not what you hope it is.Christian Cerisola, MHW PR
However, PR can be your conscience, your eyes and your ears. It can listen intently to your customers and audiences. You communications strategy is the perfect place to inform and dictate needed changes in your product or service. Remember, your brand is what your customers say it is, not what you hope it is. Southern know that all too well.
Some questioned whether #AskEddie was a pure, cold and calculated PR move. Well, naturally. But how authentic was it? An unscientific twitter poll of my followers revealed that almost half believed Eddie to have done all the work himself, closely followed by 40 percent having the suspicion that Eddie got some help from his seniors. Only 14 percent believed Eddie was a complete fabrication.
I’m with the 40 per cent. I think while he was largely given free rein, I dare say the comms chiefs were watching quite closely over his shoulder offering some on message’ advice now and again.
Regardless, Eddie handled himself with aplomb. Resulting appearances and news interviews, not least a cracking job on The Last Leg on Channel 4, will likely have the PR chiefs high fiving each other on a job well done. A career in comms beckons for Eddie.
My concern is that everyone thinks putting a 15-year-old in charge of your communications platforms becomes the answer. It is not. Handing the social media accounts to the junior because they’re native to the platforms is generally the wrong move and is fraught with danger.
Locally, Tyne and Wear Metro tried pulling exactly the same stunt a couple of days later on their twitter feed with #AskCharlie. It was a poor copy, opportunistic and disappeared pretty quickly. Get your own ideas.
The days of PR polishing the proverbial turds are gone. Customers strive for authenticity and honesty. It’s why it worked for Southern Rail for a few days. I imagine, however, the usual social media managers there would love for a few more trains to run on time.