On IR’s Social Media Royal Fumble

A few years ago, Indian Railways went on a charm offensive. The national transporter decided to attend to passengers’ complaints on Twitter. Most big brands had been doing so with a great deal of success.

And it worked. People took to Twitter to tag the Rail Ministry handle with their complaints, which were attended to with an alacrity not seen before. Smart users didn’t take long to misuse the initiative either, with demands for diapers and milk bottles from parents who probably need more guidance on how to plan for journeys with infants.

Perhaps IR could organize a tutorial for such parents before they board a train.

IR’s social media outreach was, therefore, a great success. But over time, the best social media teams get jaded, thanks to a neverending torrent of impolite, unreasonable and ranty demands made by spoilt Twitter users. How could IR’s team not be affected?

It has been a few years that all key divisional and zonal officials were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the wild world of Twitter. The idea was to get them to face the brunt of unhappy passengers and respond quickly, transparently. I am sure they have been adequately sensitized by now.

Or perhaps the stimulus was excessive. They have all evolved defense mechanisms to cope with crazy demands that Twitter users make of them. Or sometimes, they just don’t get why someone would tag them for a good reason.

Here’s one example:

Generally, though, the response is a brilliant one: A positive, but non-committal, ‘Noted’.

A search on twitter will land you with many, unintentionally hilarious, examples.  One can only hope someone in the Ministry has ‘Noted’ the problem here.

Need for Speed: Ministry of Railways Edition

The past couple of weeks have demonstrated that IR needs to get its social media managers up to speed. But once in a while, to prevent crashes, someone also ought to stop them from overspeeding.

The tweeting of a sped-up video of the Train-18 by the Railway Minister’s social media team for instance: The poor SM team must’ve gotten quite excited, assuming that’s what a train going at 180 kph looks like. However, their tweet got a fact-checking website all excited too, though for other reasons.

To the ministry’s credit, the tweet and the video are both still up. The real author of the un-edited video wasn’t too pleased about the whole thing though.

In fact, the hyper-speed video had been circulating on Whatsapp and social media for days before Mr.Goyal’s social media team got hold of it.

Some video-editing speed-freak probably wanted Train-18 to run as fast as the legendary Shinkansen. Or perhaps he wasn’t interested in waiting for ICF to come out with a high-speed version. I have a feeling he was secretly delighted at just how far his naughty handiwork went.

This has happened before, this time with news organisations taking the place of a speed freak with video editing skills. The first rake of the premium Tejas Express, pressed into service on the Mumbai – Goa route, made plenty of news in media outlets nationwide. Many got so enthusiastic, they started claiming that the Tejas was to run at 200 kph on the Konkan Railway line.

And for the next few days, the Railway Ministry’s official Twitter account was happily tweeting out news outlets’ pieces with claims that the Mumbai – Goa Tejas Express will run at 200 kph.

Never mind the fact that the Konkan Railway’s single line route to Goa is only certified for 120 kph, or that the locomotives that were to be in charge were also fit for only 120 kph.

Perhaps someone could take the SM team through a beginners course at IR’s very own National Rail Transport Institute.

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About the Author: Alok Patel

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