Peter Birks (peterbirks) wrote,
Peter Birks
peterbirks

God bless Twitter

Although the technology was around at this time last year, this seems to be the year when the "mass communication" of the mobile twittering/iphone/blackberry classses has become the norm rather than the exception. And I must say that I'm finding it rather pleasant. E.G., communications such as "Am on train to Manchester, but train had to turn back to Euston because someone left their child on the platform". That's a true one, btw. As one observer commented: "Well, Christmas is a stressful time. You can't be expected to keep on top of absolutely everyting".

I suppose it's been made more useful/entertaining by the rush of pre-Christmas bad weather, which means that there are more disasters for people to report.

However, just as everyone else is becoming "more in touch" on a peer-to-peer basis, the automation and automatization of "big" travel business has moved in the opposite direction, with dire results.

That means that a person who has been fucked over by Eurostar can be texting Radio Five Live, er, Live, (or, indeed, can be interviewed on his mobile while sitting in a waiting room in Calais), but the person from Eurostar "on the spot" (i.e., in the waiting room in Calais), both knows nothing and says nothing.

The same happened this morning with Easyjet. While people at the airports were reporting live on the radio what was happening, the staff at the airports had no idea what was going on. While communication for the masses has been liberated, the "top-down" communication systems of big business remain in the (relative) dark ages.


It's no surprise, therefore, that the major gripe of nearly all passengers who have been stitched up has not been that the trains broke down or that the planes didn't fly, but that no-one at the companies concerned seemed to have the faintest idea what the fuck was going on, and that any communications that were given were frequently either wrong or were contradicted by someone else within minutes.

It's long been a moan of mine that automated communication systems are a major stress causer. The "expected arrival time" on a train platform that goes back by a minute, every minute, is one of these. That "progress bar" that some donk programmer thought was a good idea whenever a program is doing some work, well, that's a bete noire of mine. The McAfee update bar, for example, always stays on zero for about a minute, then moves to about 10% for three minutes, before zooming to 100% in a nano-second. It is, in other words, useless.

But with the arrival of the mobile, facebook updates by iphone or blackberry or whatever, people's tolerance of poor information has dropped to zero. And rightly so. There is just no excuse, except that of incompetence.

And on Friday night, Eurostar showed incompetence in spades. It was a case of reputational risk gone mad. Whatever procedures they had in progress for such a PR disaster unfolding in real time (my suspicion is that they didn't have any) they were not implemented. So we had people in Calais talking to the Radio, while no-one from Eurostar could tell you what was going on. The CEO (Richard Brown) didn't appear on the radio until 11am on Saturday. Where was he while the shit was unfolding? Because no-one these days (not a CEO, anyway) is "uncontactable". If someone who is freezing their bollocks off in a Calais Waiting Room because a Eurostar train has just been towed back to the French side of the Channel can talk to Radio Five at 11pm on a Friday night, then, one has to ask, why can't the CEO?

No longer do companies have the luxury of 12 hours to get a battle-plan for crisis management together. If it's fucked up now, then the CEO has to be on the radio, now. On the Friday night Eurostar couldn't even summon up a lowly PR guy.

In this sense, Richard Brown has still got it wrong, because he's talking about the snow, the technicalities, and how well the people were looked after who were stranded. In fact these are sideshows. The real fault of Eurostar was that it was never on top of the situation and it was never in a position to communicate to travellers or to the public what was going on. As such, we got all our news, live, from disgruntled travellers.

I hope that PR departments in all companies, not just travel companies, have taken note of this, because when the shit hits the fan somewhere else on a Friday night, say, in a year's time, the public's access to mass media as producwers will have increased even further. Live coverage on Facebook from the people there. PR man and CEO in bed, or in a meeting trying to work out how to put a decent spin on the disaster? By the following morning, it will be too late. The agenda will have been set by the public.

It's all rather liberating.

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