On a dazzling blue summerish spring day like today, there are few pleasures to match a train journey through the English countryside. Our green and pleasant land is awash with color. Bluebells and primroses cluster on the embankment; in the meadows, dense white sprays of blackthorn and cow parsley rejoice in the sunshine, while horse chestnuts have spired and turn to flower; in parks and gardens, there’s delicate pink cherry blossom and stately copper beech; and we slice through famland impossibly yellow with rapeseed.
But of course, you wouldn’t expect your roving TwitFace correspondent to notice any of that. As I travelled by rail in the late morning, my interest was in communication, the effective use of media, the quality of engagement and the return on investment.
Since my journey took me through London, I was able to observe the current status of social marketing for both the overground and the underground service. The rail authorities have kindly requested me to submit a full report of my findings ( – “If you have comments on our services, please contact us at …”). But in the meantime, here’s an interim summary.
Factual information and reminders.
Accurate but uninspiring. The correct routes and stations were pre-announced, and doors were there to be minded when we were told to do so. I always remembered to collect all my personal belongings when instructed.
Suggestion: work on the style of the scrolling marquee text in the carriages. Instead of:
The next station is Charing Cross
OMG. Charing X next. LOL
Generally acceptable, though an occasional tendency to ramble:
Good morning. This is your train controller. I’m sorry to tell you that I won’t be issuing tickets on the train today because my ticket-machine is broken. But I have alerted the main-line stations and … use your tickets … buy new … blah … blah … Thank you.
After starting well, he quickly lost our interest, and well before he came to the end, we were all back to sending our own text messages.
I timed the silences between platform messages at an average 1 min 35 seconds (slightly shorter on the underground), which is acceptable. No travellers complained that they’d been left unattended.
But a real opportunity has been missed on the in-carriage information boards on mainline trains, where the distance between stations is considerably longer, yet no new messages are displayed for several minutes.
Suggestion: Link the information boards directly to Twitter. Then maximize exposure and feedback by creating the hashtag #amtravelling.
Poor on the underground with frequent repetition of the colourless – A good service is available on all lines.
Surprising creativity on the main-line station platform:
Parents and guardians are requested to keep children under supervision at all times. Trains may pass through this station unexpectedly and at high speed.
‘Unexpectedly’ made the announcement instantly memorable – and I duly Liked it.
Some evidence of both internal and external links.
To ensure your safety and comfort on this journey, please observe the instructions posted in the carriage.
On checking, I was pleased to see notices pointing accurately to the fire extinguisher and the alarm bell at the door of the carriage.
We would like to inform passengers that services on this line will be disrupted at the weekend due to planned engineering work as we seek to improve our services. For further details, please check our station noticeboards or visit our website at xxx.com.
Suggestion: make it possible for travellers to Like these improvements to the service.
Strategically placed – right in the middle of the main-line carriage – was a woman’s group on a day-trip to the city. This was pure social marketing genius: the group was loud, brash, on-topic and ready to share with everyone.
For example, here in the UK we have a royal wedding coming up next week – everyone’s talking about it. From our women, I learned the secret history of Royal Icing – on the outside of the wedding cake. Unfortunately I can’t tell you here … because it’s a Royal Secret. But I also learnt that another way to say 2:30 is ‘visit to the Chinese dentist’. (Two – tooth … you see? Never mind. I’ll save it for Twitter.)
Suggestion: This experiment would have worked even better if fellow-travellers were able to give feedback. A button perhaps, on each seat-rest allowing us to Like or Rate each story, joke or phone conversation overheard in the carriage. Think of it as a social icebreaker.
Retweets and Mentions
The system clearly works well on the underground, and in fact I’m presenting the Samuel Beckett RT Award to the oldish gentleman with electric gray hair, gray shirt, loose-fitting trousers over loose-fitting legs, and a brown paper bag in his hand. He lurched across the platform in my direction, shaking his fist at the arriving train and all its well-socialized passengers.
Mind the gap. Stand clear of the doors.
- Min’-the-gap. Stan’ clear o’ the fuckin’ life!
Other TwitFace Project posts:
The TwitFace Plan
7 Health & Safety Tips For Bloggers
Donate A Family. Save A Writer
14 Ways To Make Friends With Americans
Shiny Happy People
What Is Web ME 2?
How To Hypnotize Readers
One Of Our Tweeps Is Missing
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