So there’s lots of buzz right now about Eurostar’s mass travel delays following a train failure mid-Channel Tunnel, and the subsequent issues surrounding the handling of their Social Media presence by self-called ‘Conversation Agency’ We Are Social.

I am not intending to repeat much of what’s already been said, nor lay out the background of the situation, which is neatly summarised at TechCrunch. You can read what I have found to the best articles on the theme of this being a Communications problem as opposed to a Social Media problem at BrandRepublic, Digital Stuffing and at Rob Fenwick’s blog, with thanks to Mack Pack for pointing me there with his good summarising post. My aim is to discuss the flawed view of the majority that is held towards Social Media.

Before I begin, I’ll say that this is in no way an attack on We Are Social. They have chronicled their trials and tribulations in the last days on their blog, and as they state, had no agreement in place with Eurostar for crisis management. The reason why I’m tackling this case study is because it’s current, and because it reveals what the majority mindset is.

So here are the flaws that Social Media Agencies and their Clients are facing that have been highlighted by the Eurostar situation:

Flaw 1: Conversations, not Communications

We Are Social are a ‘Conversation Agency‘, and if that’s what they are selling, then that’s fine. But the misunderstanding for many is that Social Media is just about conversations, and this is where problems set it in: because it’s not. First of all, Social Media is communications (of which ‘conversation’ is a part), and secondly, not all conversation, nor communication, is verbal, or written, or video, or audio, or links.

The fruition of this thinking means Social Media doesn’t do anything outside of ‘Conversations’ which is often code for ‘soft-sell marketing’. As we have seen, and as many are writing, this Eurostar debacle should illustrate once and for all that Social Media is not just about marketing – and any campaign that does so is an unbalanced and doomed campaign, because people – your users – are always going to ask you about things that are nothing to do with marketing, such as customer support – why? – because it’s a communication platform and that’s how they see it.

Neilsen identified 5 areas of use for Social Media (Customer Service and Support, Insight and Research, Product Development, PR Reputation and Influence, Marketing), all of which require both internal and external communications, which are probably managed by Social Media (you know, email, basecamp, etc.) This means communication infrastructure needs to be built – more on this later.

My other point is that thinking about ‘Conversations’ as a one-size-fits-all is another flawed mindset. Sure, Social Networks are a place for conversation – but users talk with their friends – not incessantly with brands. At Like Minds Immersive: Developing Social Media Strategy I pointed to a lack of profiling one’s actual Social Media audience as hit and miss quicksand. Just because a demographic will have a conversation with others about you doesn’t mean they want to have a conversation with you – perhaps all they want is a discount code? Correct profiling should prevent you from overestimating their participation with you. Also when we look at Social Media as Communications, we can stop thinking that the only lexicon we have is ‘engagement’, ‘conversation’, ‘participation’ and ‘discussion’.

Flaw 2: Little or No Strategy

We Are Social’s plan for Eurostar was a low-level, introductory experiment called ‘Little Break, Big Difference‘ (again they discuss this on their blog.) The site looks quite nice, but when I also consider their Twitter account and Facebook page, I am left feeling that there is little strategy here. I don’t get how this really connects with their audience, or in any way lifts restrictions to provide their audience with previously unrealised value.

This lack of strategy is now common place for Social Media campaigns. For me, I consider a large contribution to this is the lack of strategic frameworks for Social Media programs. Perhaps people are too busy trying to Social Celebrities. Anyway. Very few people seem to make frameworks and models, and most are really not that beneficial but just tactics. I’m sure it’s very arrogant, but I think this is something I do well. I’ve drawn up a number of frameworks that don’t just point out tactics but help you identify what strategic approach you should take.

Basic questions that should be answered by a good strategy:

  • What purpose do the Social Media profiles have? Which of the 6 presence types are you using?
  • How are your profiles lifting restrictions for your target audience?
  • What provision are you making for non-conversation activity?
  • What levels of participation is your audience profiled at?

We’ve all said it, but let’s say it again: tactics aren’t strategy. So please, Mr. I-Did-A-Twitter-Course, add some strategy to your understanding of the tools. And this goes for the agencies too!

Flaw 3: Little or No Integration

When it comes to Social Media you’ve got to know that, being a communications platform, people will tweet you for things that a marketing agency can’t resolve. If you view your Social Media activity as purely marketing you are stuffed. Case in point: people still reply to @SkyNews  with questions, even though it clearly states that it’s not there to provide responses and is automated.

Integration goes to your 360 degree management structure – who reports to who – where to go for information – classification of engagement to ensure correct responses and subsequent internal communications – ensuring that each message is systematically resovled.

Look at Eurostar’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and there is apparently none of this. Wall posts with no resolution (as per image above), Tweets with no responses – and if they are being done in private, then why aren’t they being done in public?

Where is the linkup between PR, Marketing, Support, C-Suite and Social Media? Who integrated this? Who thought ahead and considered some worst case scenarios?

When I work with clients at Aaron+Gould, we create guidelines that detail exactly how we execute everything and how we report, including classification of Tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, scales of urgency and response, complete with the entire procedure for resolution and sample 140 character updates to use. Over time I’ll be sharing a lot of this with you, but if you want some great advice on crisis management and Social Media, read this article from FreshNetworks.

Flaw 4: Non Experiential

Question: do you think the user cares that, on the Eurostar Twitter, it says “Official Eurostar Twitter feed. Not Eurostar customer service but trying to help get information out to our customers as received. Thanks for understanding”

Answer: no one cares. In fact, few even read it. People just want answers – like I’ve said three times in this post on the same point now.

There is a real problem with delivering user experience for most Social Media campaigns, like this case above. I find it highly ironic that, seeing as We Are Social believe that, we, the people, are social, then why on earth is there a complete lack of Social Support? The message from We Are Social and Eurostar here is clear: “When it comes to marketing our message to you, we’ll talk and we are social. But when it comes to solving your problems that we marketed you into buying, then sorry, we’re not social anymore.”


That’s my take on it. Like I said in starting, this isn’t an attack on We Are Social – and I really do feel that they have received the unfortunate brunt of what was a problem out of their control. But they had not architected a Social Media strategy correctly, and it is approaches like theirs that continue to muddy the industry and create further ‘conversationalists’ who lack any care for integration that actually benefits organisations and users in the long run.

What I haven’t done is said what I would’ve done. Firstly, because it’s too easy to say it, and secondly, because I think the correct actions fall into place when we change our thinking about Social Media as I have tried to do above.


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  • Mark Pack

    That Sky News example is a good one – thanks.

  • Scott Gould

    Yeah – very useful to realise

  • Tomas Gonsorcik

    Hey Scott,

    This is all well and good ‘strategic advice’ stuff, but what about not having any standard for measuring the impact of social media on the bottom line.

    Surely we’d be able to approximate all of the above in much finer detail if there was a clear and explicit objective to Eurostar’s social media presence. Or was there?

  • Scott Gould


    You’re right – I missed that out and should’ve made that clear. From reading We Are Social’s own blog on the situation, they said that they had basic objectives to learn from this experiment with “little break, big difference”.

    Linking this to the broader picture of the majority of Social Media programming, objectives and measurement are terribly absent – hence they are, as you say, unable to approximate or measure much in finer detail without clear and explicit objectives.