Humour on social media can be a high-risk, high-stakes thing. This is nowhere clearer than in the now-famous Twitter spat between Thameslink and Poundland.
Thameslink’s woes stem from the introduction of a new timetable. If you want to know how that’s going, go to National Rail Enquiries’ ‘Live Departure Boards’ page, select any station on the line and then maybe have fun betting with your friends on which train will show ‘CANCELLED’ next.
It’s not going well. In fact, it’s chaos, and Thameslink has had a very thorough online kicking from commuters on this strategically important line.
Someone in charge of the social media account for Thameslink had clearly heard that self-effacing humour could be disarming. Replying to one passenger on Twitter, they said: ‘Very sorry Kevin. Appreciate at the moment the service is less Ferrero Rocher and more Poundland cooking chocolate. We are working out [sic] best to stabilise the service.’
I don’t know if this worked on Kevin – it certainly didn’t work on Poundland. Responding with a pic of a letter, Austin Cooke, the store’s Retail Director, wrote: ‘Aside from the breach of trademark, we think you’re taking the chocolate biscuit.
‘Frankly, you have no right to use our name to describe poor service. We served 8 million shoppers last week and didn’t have to close any store due to leaves on the roof, the wrong kind of rain or a shortage of managers.
‘We think we have a pretty good idea about what great customer service is compared to most rail companies.
‘But if we ever fall short, perhaps we’ll describe ourselves as a bit Thameslink.
‘If you don’t want to hear from our extremely twitchy legal team, we suggest you remove your tweet.’
Thameslink has apologised for the tweet.
But of course, Poundland’s response has made headlines and been very widely shared. As LBC’s coverage put it: ‘Poundland’s Response To Thameslink’s Tweet Was Brutal.’
Why did social media work for Poundland, giving it hectares of free, positive coverage, but not for Thameslink? Here’s a few thoughts.
The immediacy of social media means responses are quick, entering into dialogue is expected, and people operating channels need to be trusted to handle this. The best defence to errors such as the one Thameslink made, is not to retreat from social media, but to hire sensible people and train them.
If you’d like to learn about our social media training, tailored to your business’s aims and its risks, I hope you’ll get in touch.