Trains and transparency: how rail companies handle social media

There are three universal things expected from train companies:

  • trains should arrive on time
  • the journey must be safe
  • clients should be kept informed

Although, it sounds like the easiest thing to achieve, that last one can be a struggle for companies running thousands of trains every day. Trains are constantly subjected to a diverse range of incidents that can potentially cause traffic disruptions. As a result, train companies are expected to communicate quickly and regularly with their travellers.

For that reason, social media appears as the ideal tool. Not only does it enable train companies to warn travellers of occurring disruptions, it also gives them the opportunity to inform people on the reasons why those disruptions occurred.

Here are some good examples of how train companies across Europe have made the most of their social media channels to inform, communicate, and engage with their audience.

1) Network Rail Kent and Sussex: The power of threads

Network Rail Kent and Sussex have started using threads on their Twitter feed to inform customers about latest disruptions and the reasons behind them.

Every once in a while, their Twitter feed becomes a real “Railway Network 101” that looks back on a disruption and details what caused it. Network Rail use these threads to be transparent and to take the time to explain how delays can keep everyone safe.

Sharing that information might not help reassure the people who got to work late, but it is a great way to educate on technical topics usually not known by the public.

2) London Northwestern Railway: Transparency. Every day.

Running thousands of trains every day requires clear and regular communication with customers. Often criticised for their inability to share up-to-date information when incidents happen, London Northwestern Railway decided to demonstrate the contrary by opting for complete transparency on traffic statistics. They also launched a dedicated webpage keeping track of their performance.

Deciding to make bad performance public is risky, but it helps to create the image of a transparent company working on its flaws. Travellers affected won’t necessarily be happy about those numbers, but the effort to be transparent can be appreciated. On top of that, if technical performances are visible throughout the months, it will be available for everyone to see. In the long run, it could constitute an opportunity to advertise improvements.

3) SNCB: Using visuals for clearer information.

When faced with incidents on the tracks, the Belgian national train company SNCB effectively deploys visuals.

Their graphics are built upon three simple ingredients: the cause, a current update, and solutions for customers. They also use maps to make it easier for travellers to have a better understanding of the situation. Other companies have opted for pictures to tone down incidents getting important media coverage. In 2018, the French SNCF released on its Twitter feed a picture of a derailed high-speed train in Marseille. The picture of a train not at-all damaged and still upright contradicts the representation people might have of a derailment. It helped to avoid dramatic media coverage of the event.

4) SNCF: Employee advocacy

Since 2017, SNCF has deployed an employee advocacy program on social media under the hashtag #TeamSNCF. The hashtag brings together a real community of train drivers and employees sharing their everyday lives and the hidden side of their jobs on social media.

Members of the team have shared explanatory threads on common but not clearly understood incidents such as snowfall or on anecdotes unknown to the public. These threads are great, not only because they come directly from people on the ground but also because they are shared by real people, who are authentic and distinct from the company’s official account. Employees who post about their daily life on social media can often act as trusted voices for an organisation.

5) BVG: Humour and self-mockery.

Last but not least, the Berlin transport company BVG released a video full of self-mockery to apply for UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. It has been shared on social media and has seen great success. Accepting one’s own flaws proves openness and a certain sense of modernity. And it’s clearly working!