Social Suicide Brands and Social Sentiment. It’s been a tough week for Southern Railway after its attempt on Monday to start a movement on Twitter against the Trade Unions driving their employee strike action.  The backlash was instant; Twitter blazed with consumers’ indignation and Southern Rail’s social fail hit the national headlines.

The train operator published a tweet at 7:20am during Monday morning rush hour asking passengers facing two more weeks of strikes to rally against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union using the hashtag #SouthernBackOnTrack.  Taking an integrated approach, a double page spread in the Metro also appeared the same day urging commuters to get online and complain.

Southern Rail asked commuters to tweet the RMT union about how the strike action made them feel, leading to an onslaught of negative criticism against the rail operator itself.  Aghast consumers hit back at the franchise, accusing Southern Railway of trolling, online harassment and incompetence.

In a bid to drive reach and engagement with their communities, brands often adopt a “consumer stance” when it comes to humour and tone, taking a more personable approach audiences can relate to. Unfortunately, Southern Rail are a case in point of where to draw the line.  An attempt to shift responsibility for what has been a prolonged period of passenger dissatisfaction was guaranteed to frustrate those passengers even more.

It’s integral to have a strong brand rule book for direct to consumer communication, with a clear idea of what image the brand is crafting online and a strategy to that end.  Complaining visibly online is the reserve of the consumer, not something that can be taken on by businesses themselves.

Crafting a positive story of what the company was actively doing to ease travelling woes would have been more advisable than the perceived negative sentiment and mud slinging.