Social Media: Want your customers to talk to you? Be careful what you wish for…

Anyone with social media responsibility as part of their job knows that success will often be determined – in part, at least – by the level of response and interaction you have with your audience.

To that end, it made sense on a Monday morning for Transpennine Express, the rail operator which – in case you can’t guess – runs train services over the Pennines, to ask what one spell people would cast if they could, given it was Halloween.

The company certainly got responses. But no prizes for what people were saying they’d wish for:

Hindsight is always 20:20, but spending a good deal of time travelling by train for work, I think that question was always going to be a bit of an open goal. But credit to TPE, they did respond to the theme about there not being enough carriages:

And there’s more…

TPE certainly got audience interaction, but is that a success? I guess it depends on how they respond. The suggestion of free wifi could placate many, and it’s almost turned into a crowdsourcing exercise on how to improve services. Maybe that’s one way forward – encouraging people to suggest the best ways to deploy those 60 trains.

To be fair to TPE, buying new trains is something which comes with a lot of government red tape. According to Private Eye, TPE began first trying to extend trains back in 2009 – and the government has yet to actually place the order. Of course, it’s quite difficult for TPE to make that point without alienating the civil servants which award it its franchise.

All of which begs the question: Sometimes, even on social media, is sometimes better to say nothing at all?

Ps: For what it is worth, I think TPE are one of the better train operators. The trains are clean, generally run on time, and the staff are friendly (mostly). The refreshments trolley also stocks Haribo. Free wifi would be good – 3G is a pain to get in the middle of the Pennines.

3 comments

  1. David,

    thanks for taking the time to write such a well rounded piece regarding our Facebook page.

    We have always been a company that tries to be open and honest with our customers and provide answers to their questions and comments. We have been trying to do this long before the birth of social media and have always tried to be approachable rather than guarded and secretive – we like to be a bit different and we are certainly proud of how we communicate.

    We hope that we have embraced the likes of Facebook and Twitter (you can follow us @tpexpresstrains) and continued that open approach.

    We try wherever possible to offer fun, interactive and informative conversations – basically because we know there is more to life than trains!!!

    Of course we recognise that customers use these forums to get information about certain aspects of our service and we have in the past pushed out that type of info. Notably during the recent industrial action we used our social media presence to inform customers about the reasons behind the strike, the updates on the negotiations and ultimately the timetables and services we would be running.

    We also know that our industry can at times be subject to a certain level of negativity and criticism, some valid some not.

    Never ones to dodge the issues or hide behind corporate spin we have on Facebook and Twitter addressed the issues of crowded trains, leaves on the line and cable theft – we will continue to debate the ‘difficult’ topics and offer our response. We believe that whilst we may not be able to always give the answers people want or expect we do at least have a responsibility to provide answers.

    To us, the social media world is no different to the communications channels of the past, except of course we may be able to talk to more people more often.

    So debate and comment from our customers is welcomed and encouraged and in that regard we are happy to say that our social media presence is a success. Long may it continue.

    Matthew Hay
    FTPE Media Relations Manager

  2. They really did generate a staggering level of response. Even if it was not all positive. I think where possible there should always be a response from a company. It never looks good to say nothing at all.
    Sophie Hobson, deputy editor, LondonlovesBusiness

  3. I like the responses to ftpe because I hate this tendency for asinine irrelevant rubbish in social media interaction. I stopped following ftpe on facebook for this reason. I know there’s a need to avoid being worthy, wordy and dull, but their childish and frivolous focus on irrelevant, non railway rubbish demeans them and their followers. I mean, who would follow ftpe expecting and hoping to be sent such fluff? It is good to see everybody responding by bringing the topic more relevant to ftpe, cutting through the crap.

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