Got a negative hashtag about your brand? Quick, snap up the domain name…

We’ve always enjoyed grumbling about trains, and Twitter has provided an instant platform (unintended pun) for those wishing to make they feelings known. Do a Twitter search on LondonMidland, Virgin or First on any day of the week, and you’ll see plenty of people annoyed at their travel plans being delayed (and it’ll cost at least 6% more from next year, too!)

So how do train companies deal with this situation? Virgin try and engage with those complaining on Twitter, urging people to get in touch with complaints. They’ve got a good point – there’s no point having a rant on Twitter if you’re not prepared to complain directly to the company.

Northern Rail, which runs local services across the North of England, doesn’t seem to do quite so well on the PR front, at least not on Twitter, with the volume of complaints from Twitterers even leading to an established hashtag – Northernfail

I should declare an interest at this point. I was at the mercy of Northern Rail for two years while working in Liverpool. The trains were regularly late, often cancelled and on more than one occasion forgot to get on the right track to stop at my station. Then there was the quality of the rolling stock: Regularly dirty, often smelly and frequently leaky. And then there are the Pacer trains, the buses on tracks which the Tories brought in during the 1980s as a stop-gap measure which provide the level of comfort Gillian McKeith is currently experiencing in the Jungle.

Northern argue, perhaps rightly, that the franchise they have didn’t include any remit to get new rolling stock (although there’s nothing in the contract to say they couldn’t dip into their pockets and pay for some) and that the popularity of their services, which leads to complaints about overcrowding, makes them a victim of their own success.

So how are they seeking to deal with the Northernfail conversation? They’ve begun snapping up the Northernfail URLs. Seriously.

According to allwhois.com,northernfail.org was snapped up by the York-based company on October 5th, along with northernfail.com. Both take you through to this default landing page from 123reg. Given the trashing they take on northernfail.co.uk you can perhaps see the reason behind their actions, but I’m also inclined to think that surely prevention would be better than cure?

In which case, working a bit harder to appease disgruntled customers might be a better way to protect the brand. Snapping up the domain names which relate to criticism suggests you’re no so much interested in improving things  as you are silencing people.

Or as the author of the Twitter account northernfailorg pointed out when s/he spotted Northern’s purchases (and it was through their tweet that I knew about this):

I see Northern Rail registered northernfail.com .org and .net last month. At least they are buying something new

3 comments

  1. I follow @_SouthEastern. Initially thought it was the real deal until the tone became continuously sarcastic and negative. They now only seem to retweet all the negative tweets aimed at South Eastern Rail – highly amusing. I’d be interested to know if South Eastern are even aware of this PR nightmare…

  2. I think Northern Rail are pretty well versed on Twitter now. In fact they’ve now got their own official Twitter account @northernrailorg.

    I run the northernfail.co.uk site (thanks for the link). Northern Rail are my most loyal visitor according to the website statistics. I hope their staff appreciate the site as the light-hearted joke its intended to be and don’t take personal offence. I also hope they read the very honest and sometimes angry tweets which criticise them. These aren’t people being angry for the sake of it. These people are angry because Northern Rail have failed them. Some companies pay fortunes for the sort of feedback Northern Rail can get with a simple Twitter search. I’d be terrible if they – and the other rail companies – didn’t use Twitter to improve their service.

    You’re right about Northern Rail not being bound to purchase new rolling stock, which is why I blame the previous government for their failures more than I blame Northern or the people who work there – who are probably doing the best job possible with the terrible tools they’ve been given. I do wish they’d buy new trains. Oh and some cleaners.

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