A few weeks ago my Twitter feed was full of praise for Eddie the 15-year-old work experience student who has been hailed as ‘saving the reputation’ of Southern Rail with his very witty comments on Twitter.
I am pretty sure his replies to questions such as “what would you rather fight, one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?” haven’t really saved the reputation of the much-maligned rail franchise, especially with the announcement of a £13m fine, but what Southern Rail has done is demonstrate a human touch, which is very tricky to get right.
Social media, and in particular Twitter, is now the norm for residents to vent their frustration when services aren’t up to the standard they expect. I admit I am the first to complain to a company, especially a train company for some reason, when I am left feeling that their services haven’t been up to scratch. But how do you judge when it is OK to be fun and a tiny bit flippant in your response, and when it really does have to be handled in a serious manner?
To me it is all about being personal. I react better, when I get a response to a complaint tweet, when I feel I have been listened to – even if the response isn’t saying what I want it to.
As I write, there is a TV screen to my right flashing up all the tweets coming into our corporate account, and they range from frustrated anger to polite complaining, with a few compliments thrown in. When I look at the angry ones, I wonder if the person tweeting them even thinks that there is a person sat the other side responding to them. What Southern Rail did was actually quite brave – I am not sure we would be that brave here – and it paid off.
So maybe we should all hand the reins of our social media accounts over to a 15-year-old now and again and have a bit more fun, but most importantly remind people that behind the avatar is a real person.
Eleri Roberts, assistant director of communications, Birmingham City Council