Eurostar's social media crisis


Eurostar on Twitter, 19th December 2009

As you may already know, Eurostar, who are a client of ours, had a major disruption today. Five Eurostar trains suffered electrical breakdowns in the channel tunnel, leaving passengers stuck on trains in very unpleasant conditions, and even more were left stranded as all of today’s Eurostar services were cancelled. As you would expect with any event of this nature, this very quickly became big news on Twitter and elsewhere in social media.

Some have questioned both Eurostar’s and our own handling of the situation, with a particular emphasis on Twitter, so I thought it worth giving some insight from our perspective.

We’ve been working with Eurostar since the summer, creating online word of mouth around their ‘Little break, Big difference’ campaign. As part of our campaign, we designed, built and are managing the Little break, Big difference blog, along with the accompanying Facebook page and Twitter account. This has primarily been a social media marketing campaign, with conversations centered around things to do in Paris, Brussels and Lille and the difference a ‘little break’ can make.

When we first met with Eurostar, as we do with all of our clients, we talked to them about the need to put a real-time social media monitoring and responding programme and crisis plan in place, and proposed a conversation audit and consultancy project to help them implement such a programme. As is common with any business in the early stages of coming to terms with social media, they could see the long term benefits of such a strategy. However, as adapting their existing processes had wider implications across the business, they needed to investigate the options and their impacts. Meanwhile, they decided to move forward with the Little break, Big difference campaign and learn from the experience of engaging in conversations in social media.

When discussing 2010’s activity with the Eurostar team last week, we again discussed a listening and responding programme (and about taking action to claim the unoffical @Eurostar_UK twitter account), and after the positive experience from Little break, Big difference, we agreed to include this in our proposal for next year.

Fast forward to this morning, and I was awoken by a call from our Account Manager, Sarah with news of the crisis. Despite not having a formal arrangement in place, we’re pretty good at keeping an eye out for our clients, even at weekends. Since then, Sarah, Seb, Nathan and myself have been working flat out to help Eurostar deal with the situation.

This is an unprecedented situation for them so it’s been challenging, to say the least. Richard Brown, Eurostar’s Chief Executive and the rest of the team at Eurostar have been working through the night and today, with their priority to get those people that were stranded on trains overnight home and then to minimise the disruption for everyone else.

Since lunchtime, we’ve been sat in Eurostar’s St Pancras offices alongside Emma Harris, their Sales & Marketing Director. As things were changing so fast, we had be very careful not to communicate incorrect information, which restricted how much we could say, but we did pass on via Facebook and Twitter any news we could the minute we received it.

We also managed to grab a moment of Richard’s time, in between various operations meetings and television interviews, to write this blog post and record this embedded video message apologising to Eurostar’s affected customers:

Most importantly, we’d been feeding back into Eurostar’s team the questions that people had been asking in social media throughout the day, and once confirmation of the answers came through we were able to get this FAQ post live and spread the word about it via Facebook and Twitter.

Crises of this nature are not new to us here at We Are Social, and in fact we helped Skype successfully deal with a comparable crisis. We put in place a real-time social media listening and responding programme and crisis plan when we started working with them in June last year. When their crisis occurred in October ’08, the listening and responding process was working like a well oiled machine and the crisis plan we had in place worked well. We tracked all of the online conversations relating to the crisis, helped Skype’s President write a series of blog posts in response and got the word out to everyone who had written about the crisis with Skype’s side of the story. Here’s the case study I presented about this at Monitoring Social Media ’09.

We had our hands full today, but nonetheless I apologise to those who have been asking questions of We Are Social which we weren’t able to respond to at the time. Hopefully this post goes some way to answering those questions.

Update 26th Dec: I’ve covered what’s happened since I wrote this post in Eurostar and social media, one week on.