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What we can learn from the NSW government’s Sydney trains crisis

Emma Griffin

Apr 12, 2018

With the rise of social platforms as a medium for public feedback over the last decade, the luxury of time to plan for a crisis has dropped significantly. Forget hours, a company usually have just 7 minutes to acknowledge a rising issue.  

Businesses often lack the tools and foresight to prepare themselves for crises, and in doing so miss the opportunity to implement a strategic approach to resolve a problem. Instead of choosing to ‘wait and see‘ if an issue will become a full-blown crisis, businesses need to be prepared to implement a consistent, transmedia approach to crisis management at the drop of a hat.

Sydney Trains’ scheduled driver strike was going to affect 1.3 million Sydney-siders on Monday. The difference between this planned strike and many other crises? There was ample time to prepare for it in advance, due to the ongoing negotiations with the Rail, Tram & Bus Unions occuring weeks in advance. The Union also warned that a strike could be a likely outcome if negotiations weren’t successful.

The importance of looking at all the information available outside your own four walls is particularly important when it comes to preparing for a crisis, especially in a situation where millions of stakeholders and large economic impacts to a city are involved.

Listen to stakeholders beyond your internal four walls

The recent backlash for the NSW Government’s changes to the 2018 train timetables should have been a clear sign that more planning is required when it comes to the issues that have been raised about the Sydney train system. Despite paying consultants to overhaul the train timetable, the main issue at hand was not addressed — having a lack of skilled drivers to cover the additional services that were added.

Sentiment for #SydneyTrains during the 11 January train network issues due to a lack of rail staff

All customer feedback should not be ignored — it’s an early indicator to start preparing for all potential outcomes to avoid any large-scale impact a known issue may become down the line. Take the 11 January network issues as an example, where over 40 per cent of sentiment towards Sydney Trains was negative as a result of the lack of rail staff to fill the newly introduced timetables.

What eventuated two weeks later was a planned strike due to the need for drivers to work overtime because of a lack of staff. While the Fair Work Commission has ordered NSW rail workers to abandon their 24-hour strike, in most cases, the Fair Work Commission or someone similar won’t be there to step in and help resolve their issues.  

Reputation management is a 24-hour job, not a side thought. This is especially true when significant economic impacts to a city as populated as Sydney is involved. To Sydney Trains’ credit, they consistently kept the Sydney public up-to-date in the lead up to the overtime ban and planned strike, as well as offered suggestions for other means of transportation.

Trending themes of Sydney Trains’ main social channels between 22-28 January 2018

However, investing in active monitoring tools that provide external stakeholder insights in real-time could have easily mitigated a full scale crisis — or at the very least, helped better prepare for last week’s overtime ban, and its roll on effects.

You can’t manage what you cannot measure

Perhaps it’s a certain reluctance to admit when an issue has become a full-blown crisis, but many businesses continue to prioritise old media first and then look to social media as back-up. The most successful crisis management strategies, however, put equal emphasis on social and traditional media.

Trending themes arising from the hashtag #SydneyTrains between 19-25 January 2018

The public — and any business — have access to more information than ever to help inform strategic business decisions and prepare for a crisis. Social chatter and conversations are happening in real-time, and often reveal the trending issues that have arisen around a brand. The #SydneyTrains hashtag for example, clearly showed that the trending issue in January were around the pay rise negotiations between the Union and the government (Gladys Berejiklian).

Outside insights is the new digital reality — listening and reacting to the conversations happening beyond the company’s walls will fundamentally help mitigate a problem before it becomes a crisis.

The use of modern monitoring tools can help listen and analyse millions of conversations in real-time, and help brands forward plan for the future. Modern communication teams in all industries must move away from crisis management to crisis mitigation, or risk missing the tell-tale signs of a rising issue that could have easily been abated.

We are living in the era of two-way transparency, and brands like the NSW government that continue to underestimate the importance of real-time feedback outside of traditional means do so at their own detriment.

Excerpts and data from this blog post appeared in Mumbrella.