One year after a Twitter backlash, has Eurostar finally got social media?

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This is a guest post looking at Eurostar’s social media response a year we wrote about their very public lack of response during a huge failure. The piece is by Colette Ballou, the founder of Ballou PR, who was stuck in the Eurostar during the incident and later spoke about her experience via Twitter and was interviewed on UK national news. Kate Spiers is the head of Wisdom London, a social media consultancy.

This week marks the one year anniversary of the Eurostar incident that taught Eurostar – and many others – that social media is not simply a nice-to-have tool for the marketing department to play with for campaigns, but the place to which people increasingly turn for real-time information and commentary.

In the past year, Eurostar has had plenty of time to translate social media disaster into social media maturity. Negative online sentiment may have died down, but they have not fully engaged customers, nor allowed them greater ownership of online channels. Think of how Dell turned a tidal wave of online dissatisfaction into a brilliant coup and reversed negative sentiment by using social media channels to their most positive advantage, daring to let go of the controls a little. Now compare that to where Eurostar is today.

An assessment of their social media engagement suggests learning over the past year, but at a very cautious level. The new @eurostarUK (marketing focus) and @eurostarcomms (corporate comms) and @eurostar (customer service) Twitter feeds answer passenger questions in real-time (but seemingly only within office hours) and wish people a nice trip. They also monitor mentions of Eurostar and often jump in on Twitter conversations with chatty asides. The Facebook page fulfills a similar function, waxing lyrical about Parisian landmarks with excited travellers and sharing what amounts to cut-and-pasted nuggets of standard info from their website on refund and check-in policy.

It’s nice. Friendly. Helpful. Up to a point. But are they missing the point? When asked about their social media strategy, a spokesperson replied via email: “Before 2010 we used social media mainly as a marketing channel, and not as a corporate communications or customer service tool. It was a missed opportunity, and since then we’ve listened and moved on.”
 Aude Criqui, Senior Press Officer, Eurostar.

But notice that negative comments posted in their stream or hastagged #Eurostar don’t always get a response. One passenger, for example, was frustrated about a lack of information and hashtagged Eurostar, but no account openly responded:

@jonworth Jon Worth: “Rubbish, #Eurostar – clear since Ebbsfleet train 9132 is late. We’re due now in BXL but haven’t reached Hal, no announcement to passengers.” (11 Dec)

In fact neither @Eurostar or @EurostarUK tweeted at all that day – perhaps because it was Saturday. Must be frustrating for @jonworth when, come Monday morning, @EurostarUK jumps on other travellers’ tweets that celebrate the “free stuff” in the lounge but never acknowledged his genuine complaint.

Here, Eurostar is missing a chance to demonstrate their social media maturity by asking more probing questions about what customers want, and showing greater commitment to dealing with dissatisfaction. After all, social media provides a perfect listening post for measuring sentiment and gathering very specific user feedback, not just the best restaurants to visit in Paris. By now, Eurostar certainly should understand this. But they are missing the opportunity to show us they’ve grown up.

More than that, if last year should have demonstrated anything, it’s that social media means you have very little to hide behind. What consumers really want to see is accountability, and you can’t get that from an avatar. The Eurostar management team, which took such a bashing last year, is still notably quiet online and management communications are still tightly controlled. This is a huge missed opportunity to build relationships through social media and to demonstrate willingness to be called to account in times of crisis. We offered Mary Walsh the chance to add comment to this article, but it was handed over to the press office. They were helpful, but again, they missed the point.

So in terms of social media maturity, Eurostar is still perhaps in its gawky adolescence, learning the social skills that help you get on in life, but not quite comfortable enough with their social selves to totally open themselves up to the good and bad life may throw their way.

Which begs the question, are they socially mature enough to deal with the next crisis?. After all, they operate at the mercy of Eurotunnel, weather, unions – and now social media.

  • http://uktra.in Ben Smith

    Unfortunately not only is Eurostar’s twitter presence ‘adolescent’ so is their attitude to other Twitter users. I run the @uktrains service which provides twitter-based travel information and used to include a service dedicated to Eurostar services – @uktr_eurostar (see http://uktra.in for the full list of operators).

    Despite clearly marking it ‘unofficial’ and only supplying travel info (to comply with Twitter’s TOS) Twitter tell me the ‘trademark owner’ asked for the account to be removed and it vanished earlier this year without warning. No-one from the firm made contact directly at any point.

    Given my service was one of the few providing officially-sourced information during the problems of a year ago (both automated and crowd-sourced) and that the service continues to operate 24/7 I was surprised they took chose to get it switched off in preference to having a conversation about their concerns. It was – of course – my error in using their trademark as part of the account name, but plenty of other firms choose to allow this when it isn’t malicious… (and sometime even when it is – witness the many fake BP PR accounts recently).

    The service is back and still helping Eurostar’s customers despite them under the new name: @uktr_euro

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      Indeed. I subscribe to your service and find it very useful.

      • http://uktra.in Ben Smith

        Thanks Mike.

        …and if anyone from Eurostar is reading and wants a friendly free chat about this I’d be delighted to help (despite everything).

      • http://twitter.com/Laurenaa_x Lauren Willmott

        Hi Ben,

        I’m a PR student in my final year suffering dissertation hell. My dissertation is based on twitter as a crisis communications tool. I was wondering whether I would be able to talk to you about Eurostar as I’m using it as a case study? Please let me know whether you are interested.

        Best Regards,

        Lauren

  • Jackson

    Whilst I’d agree with everything you’ve said above, there is a cost associated with maintaining this level of customer service. Are commuters willing to pay for this? I’m not sure at this stage they are – I would guess the vast majority of eurostar commuters don’t use twitter and are probably most likely to use the eurostar website or the departure boards to determine if there are any problems.

    Eurostar are also in the fortunate position of having an effective monopoly on their route. Sure you can fly to Paris or Brussels, but having taken both options to both cities from London, I’m pretty sure I would pick Eurostar every time, regardless of their social media strategy.

    Now perhaps this will eventually change, once it becomes the norm for companies to use twitter or other social media channels for interaction. We’re certainly not there yet.

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      What’s the cost of NOT maintaining it?

      • http://uktra.in Ben Smith

        …or even “what’s the cost of doing just a little bit better?” Even without spending any money service status and marketing / promotion messages could be run on separate accounts and a bio could be added suggesting use of the website for ‘out of hours’ disruption info.

        Having said that, if Eurostar do have customer service agents ‘live 24/7’ to update other mediums (such as feeding the BBC and updating their website) why couldn’t they also copy this info to Twitter (either automated or manually as National Rail Enquiries do)… It clearly wouldn’t be ‘free’ but it wouldn’t be as expensive as providing dedicated staff for the task.

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  • sohcahtoa

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m currently in France with a ticket for a Paris -St Pancras service this evening. I’d really appreciate some detailed information on how things are running and the situation at the stations – especially as the service updates on the official website are so vague and sporadically updated – as opposed to (as you say) advertising puff and responses to (sometimes slightly hysterical) traveller queries about more minor matters.
    http://twitter.com/eurostaruk (and to some extent http://twitter.com/eurostarcomms) are even worse!

  • http://www.voluptuousfriends.com/ Melinda Love

    I think they are doing better

  • http://dateaniceguy.com One Nice Guy

    Twitter is very useful but there is no profit in it

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  • Anonymous

    Following up on my thoughts written down in the article, I observe that, having spoken to Eurostar in some detail about how they approach social media, their Twitter presence is structured very much in terms of organisational / internal structures and siloes and NOT in terms of customer needs, expectations or even logic. Some serious design thinking could be applied here to make customer access to information on Twitter and Facebook easier and more logical. It’s clear that a customer stuck in Paris in need of info sees no distinction between the various Twitter handles (which represent marketing, customer service, corporate comms etc) – and why should they?

    It’s not just Eurostar – it’s the problem seen by many clunky organisations who are trying to ‘layer’ social media into their operations, rather than embed it in the customer experience.

  • Anonymous

    Following up on my thoughts written down in the article, I observe that, having spoken to Eurostar in some detail about how they approach social media, their Twitter presence is structured very much in terms of organisational / internal structures and siloes and NOT in terms of customer needs, expectations or even logic. Some serious design thinking could be applied here to make customer access to information on Twitter and Facebook easier and more logical. It’s clear that a customer stuck in Paris in need of info sees no distinction between the various Twitter handles (which represent marketing, customer service, corporate comms etc) – and why should they?

    It’s not just Eurostar – it’s the problem seen by many clunky organisations who are trying to ‘layer’ social media into their operations, rather than embed it in the customer experience.

  • http://wisdomlondon.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/what-consumers-want-from-corporate-social-media-accountability/ What consumers want from corporate social media: Accountability « Wisdom London

    […] Link: An analysis of Eurostar’s crisis handling on social media channels […]

  • http://andywood171.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/twitter-customer-care-channel-eurostar/ Twitter Customer Care Channel: Eurostar | Andy Woods Blog

    […] One year after a Twitter backlash, has Eurostar finally got social media? (eu.techcrunch.com) […]

  • http://livajudic.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/testing-eurostars-social-crm-a-learning-curve/ Testing Eurostar’s Social CRM: A Learning Curve « Merrybubbles

    […] However, a year later, very few were still openly monitoring the situation and the only piece I could find was by TechCrunch UK: One year after a Twitter backlash, has Eurostar finally got social media?. […]

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  • Anonymous
  • http://www.socialmediananny.ie/uncategorized/transporttwitter/ Transport & Twitter | Social Media Nanny

    […] I could write it up, but it’s already been done by someone much more skilled that I, via TechcrunchUK.  @IrishRail, happy to hear your thoughts on this article and think this link may be of interest […]

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