British Airways, I hope you were listening

The other week British Airways cabin crew here in the UK voted to strike during the Christmas holiday season, potentially leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded.

Swift court action put an end to that.   But with the Unions vowing to try again, it seems that – assuming there’s no agreement – it’s only a matter of time before we are treated to TV footage of angry customers at Heathrow’s Terminal Five.   When that time comes I really hope BA will have thought about Twitter and the best way to use its @british_airways account here in the UK.

I say that as Eurostar has succeeded in the space of twelve hours, into turning into a social media case study that will now be quoted for months to come in terms of how not to do something.   Essentially five Eurostar trains (the line that runs between London and Paris / Brussels) broke down inside the channel tunnel last night, leaving people stranded for 15 odd hours.

Some turned to Twitter to vent their frustration (and that includes passengers waiting for their trains here in the UK).   Eurostar however seemed a little slow off the mark, eventually responding around lunchtime today, but via an account called @little_break.   You see the problem immediately there.

In what I think is a must read post, fellow blogger and online PR Danny Whatmough has pointed out that @eurostar_uk was an unofficial account, @eurostar is owned by someone else while @little_break is used primarily to push, as the name implies, short breaks.

The mentality was that Twitter and social media is a promotional tool rather than a reputation management one, whereas as Danny says, “social media is for good times AND bad.”

As Mark Pack has said in another post, it also shows the problems when customer services, standard PR and social media don’t join up the dots.

One of the arguments you often hear about Twitter is that ‘our customers don’t use it’, ‘my mum hasn’t heard of it’ or variations of that theme.   Yes, Twitter’s core user base is actually relatively small with 5% of tweeple accounting for 75% of tweets.   But that 5% is comprised of people who know their way around the Web and use Twitter to spark off fires elsewhere.

Case in point, one of the passengers was French tech PR Colette Ballou, who among other things handles the Facebook account in France.   Colette made her feelings known and they were swiftly included in an article by tech journalist Mike Butcher on TechCrunch.

And really here is the thing.   The next time a crisis happens in your organisation, the chances are someone who is known in social media / media circles will be on hand to broadcast their thoughts – in real time – out to the world of what’s happening.

It might be an influential PR and Twitter user like Colette Ballou.   Or, as happened to London Underground the other month, it might be a blogger who videos that member of staff of yours verbally abusing an elderly passenger.   Just one or two influencers on the scene will do really and the rest will happen from there.

So, British Airways, if that strike happens and when people turn up giving stories of family holidays, honeymoons etc ruined, be prepared.   Even before the heart rending stories are told on the ten o clock news, there will have been several hours of angry Twitter comments exposing each and every area of your comms and customer service strategy.

And with journalists tuning into Twitter, those tweets will in fact inform what goes out on that news broadcast later in the evening.   Actually, what happened over the past day should really be a wake up call to just about any other customer facing organisation!

Image – bribriTO

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