RapidKL the operating arm of Government ownded company Prasarana recently took 8 corporate leaders on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) so that they could experience public transport and more importantly, be seen to be taking public transport in an apparent effort to “encourage the culture within their organization(s) and the public in general, as well as obtain their feedback for further improvements. This is a continuous effort from our end to get key leaders more involved in understanding the need to further enhance public transportation services in the country.”
However, The Heat Malaysia, an increasingly popular source of news for Malaysians called the event a ‘failed PR stunt’ and wrote a long article critizing the event and suggesting Prasarana misled the public by claiming it took place during peak time when in fact it happened between the hours of 11am – 2pm which can hardly be considered peak time.
Prasarana responded quickly with a decent explanation that was duly published at the end of the article. The Heat Malaysia site doesn’t appear to allow comments and it’s not possible to tell how many people shared the article on social media.
But never mind, all well and good so far and for many stories, this is quite often where it ends. Unless of course it is related to an issue that is close to commuter’s hearts. And public transport is definately close to the commuter’s heart. Which is probably why the Heat Malaysia didn’t leave it at that. They know a story with legs and so they also published the article on Facebook. And that’s when things started to fall apart.
Within hours, there were more than 50 comments on the post, nearly every one of them negative. By 2.30pm in the afternoon, Rapidkl cobbled together a predictable, corporate response, “Dear The Heat Malaysia, the recent online reports by the media covering 8 key corporate leaders riding the LRT during “peak hours” was inaccurately reported and had caused anxiety among some of our commuters. Please allow us to correct the facts and inform that the hour spoken refers to the afternoon “lunch crowd” and not peak hours as mentioned in the reports. The leaders were given an opportunity to experience taking public transportation as an effort to encourage the culture within their organization and the public in general, as well as obtain their feedback for further improvements. This is a continuous effort from our end to get key leaders more involved in understanding the need to further enhance public transportation services in the country.”
This typically contrived, corporate driven, out of touch and dated response generated even more negativity with Evelyn Toh asking what all of us were thinking would have been the right approach from the start:
24 hours later there was no let up in the abuse. And when Halim Hassan uploaded this image of the VIPs sitting in seats reserved for the elderly and disabled, what started out as a good idea, became an unmitigated disaster.
However, there was still a chance for Rapidkl to salvage the situation. If it had shown its human side, put it’s hands up and apologised, explained how their intentions were honourable, how they were trying to get more cars off the road, increase use of public transport and make life better for everyone and that in future they would go out and meet with real, genuine commuters and not chauffeur driven VIPs and done a few other things it could have recovered the initiative.
But they did what far too many firms do and ran away from the problem. Despite The Heat Malaysia Facebook post getting more than 500 Likes and 164 comments, Rapidkl refused to participate in the narrative. Hoping it would instead go away. This is a classic example of how not to approach social media. Social media is your friend but the best bit of advice I can give any company is that if you intend to use it as part of your brand strategy then the first thing you have to understand is that you must be social, not do social.
Too many brands think that social media is to be used in the same way as they’ve been using traditional media – as the base for a series of poorly thought out ad hoc tactics pushing a corporate driven message. Social media is not something you do, it is something you are. Which means that the people responsible for your social media communications must know what they are doing. Being young does not qualify you for managing a firms social media communications.
And any social media initiative must be part of a clearly defined brand strategy. This is not rocket science yet so many companies feel they can simply jump into social media with an idea and announce the idea and expect it to spread out across the eco system in a perfectly choreographed, positive manner. This of course rarely happens. But until senior management learns and understands social media, and actively participates in social media, most social media projects will fail because the corporate culture dictates social media competencies and if the CEO is non committal then the culture will be non committal and that’s the wrong place from which to start.
The strategy is so important. All bases must be covered. The ‘what if’ scenarios must be carefully thought through and prepared for. And the team designated to develop the narrative must have the skills required to address any issues and communicate effectively and in tandem with the overall goal.
The irony is that Rapidkl had a good idea but they didn’t understand how to implement the idea and certainly didn’t know how to develop the narrative around the idea on social media. And as soon as it went wrong, they panicked and shut down. Nevermind, all is not lost. The public are a forgiving lot. The next steps though will be crucial. Let’s see what happens.