London Underground: To save your rep, you have 4 hours

When Jonathan MacDonald saw a London Underground worker yelling at an elderly man, he whipped out a video camera, posted the clip via Twitter, and within 24 hours the story had made page 1 of London’s Evening Standard. No fists flew, only words, but if you read MacDonald’s blog post you realize the senior citizen was being abused for having his arm caught a few seconds earlier in a train door — a nice, bile-filled moment for London Underground customer service. The transit worker named Ian, at the end of the clip, shouts “sling him under a train.”

The faster the rise, the steeper the fall

What’s intriguing about such viral phenomena is the front end of the public interest curve matches the back — meaning the faster the spike, the less time you have to react. And things will spike; millions of consumers are now walking around your organization’s touchpoints armed with tiny video cameras. Dirk Singer of London PR shop Cow notes that today, when bad PR strikes, “you have 48 hours to restore your credibility as after that people generally won’t visit your website to get your point of view.” The balloon boy story of this week is another perfect example. On Thursday this week we drove to Boston for a client meeting and, within the space of 6 hours offline, had missed the entire story of a young boy apparently floating through the air at 7,000 feet in a rickety, homemade balloon contraption. Here’s what public interest looked like on Twitter:


See the challenge? Huge spike at first — by 6 p.m. the day the story broke, balloon boy had peaked at 2.51% of all tweets. Yet by 10 a.m. the next morning, interest had collapsed. If that tale had been your brand, and not a young boy potentially falling out of a weather balloon, would you be able to react in time? If the story broke within social media and not on CNN, would you even notice?

Getting your arms around such chatter isn’t expensive. Here’s a list of 34 free (and 60 some-odd paid) social media monitoring tools to get started. Beyond such tools, you’ll also need to restructure old PR processes to allow your organization to react. There’s no time to craft press releases and run them through legal. You can’t wait to schedule a meeting with the head of HR. So what is your plan? Start listening and planning your response, because like a Mylar balloon over Colorado, what goes up soon comes down.

4 thoughts on “London Underground: To save your rep, you have 4 hours

  1. It’s a good lesson for any customer facing organisation.

    More and more of us have smartphones with video capability, and so incidents like the one Jonathan captured will no doubt be increasingly broadcast far and wide in future.

    Indeed, who is to say that the next time someone like Ian from London Underground crops up, there won’t be someone else around broadcasting the whole thing live on qik.com – once that happens forget four hours, it will be more like four minutes!

  2. Even if brands miss out on the initial event, the ripples of the story in subsequent days still give you a chance to be in the story or shape a response. Look how odd Balloon Boy is turning now with the relevation of the person helping the dad.

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