What PR Lessons Can We Learn from Eddie, the Southern Rail Intern?
Southern Rail has had a rough time of it PR-wise over the past couple of years. The rail operator has been under fire over constant delays, cancelled trains and industrial disputes, and it’s currently running a reduced service because of action by drivers from the ASLEF union.
The company regularly features in the press for the wrong reasons. But that all changed last week, when 15-year-old work experience boy Eddie, almost single-handedly restored the company’s troubled reputation after Southern Rail gave him control of the company’s Twitter feed.
Potential disaster in the making
This was a risky move by the rail giant. They effectively put their delicate reputation in the hands of a teenager. But the gamble paid off. Eddie’s charming social media temperament won over many of Southern Rails’ 161,000 Twitter followers. He became an overnight sensation, and got Southern Rail a load of priceless PR to boot.
So, how did he do it?
Before Eddie came along, Southern Rail’s Twitter feed was a depressing read. It comprised a string of incident reports, service updates and complaints by angry passengers. But Eddie brought some light relief and personality to the account, which it was desperately lacking. His opening tweet read, ‘hi, Eddie here! Here on work experience and ready to answer your questions!’ It received almost 2,000 retweets and 6,000 likes, and from there, people were hooked. He became a viral sensation, with thousands of people engaging with the account.
Eddie was quickly inundated with questions, most of which had nothing to do with trains. He patiently answered each one, despite them becoming increasingly ridiculous. Here are a couple of examples:
‘Hi Eddie! Would you rather fight 1 horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?’ Eddie replied ‘100 duck-sized horses. A horse-sized duck would be pretty scary. You?’
Another user tweeted, ‘hi Eddie, what is the worst monger? Iron, fish or war?’ After some consideration, Eddie answered ‘hi, it has to be a war monger. The fish monger at my local ASDA is amazing.’
Eddie tackled a variety of topics over his two-day stint on Southern Rail’s Twitter account. His answers were unfailingly polite and witty, and the hashtag #AskEddie soon started trending on Twitter. During his Twitter takeover, he was asked a whopping 700 questions.
Southern Rail could have easily asked people to keep the questions train-related, or told Eddie not to answer any tweets that weren’t serious enquiries or concerns. Instead, they chose to go with the flow and see how it played out. The result was an unprecedented amount of coverage online and in the national press. Radio 1 even jumped on the story, getting Eddie into the studio for an interview with Scott Mills.
Southern Rail couldn’t have planned a better PR campaign if they’d tried. Social media cynics have suggested it was an elaborate hoax and Eddie’s witty ripostes to passengers were too good to be true. But whether it was a set up or not, it got people talking about the brand. And even if it was staged, it was still a great tactic to drive brand awareness.
Winning PR strategy
Having a third-party take over your Twitter account can be a winning PR strategy. In the case of Southern Rail, it was just what the brand needed to increase followers, boost engagement and generate some good publicity.
While giving up control may make you feel nervous, with the right person at the helm, the reward will far outweigh the risk.