Southern Rail is in the hot seat on Twitter today, after unions announced that its staff would be going on a 5-day strike. The movement is an effort to improve overall security, by ensuring that trains have both a driver and a conductor. As the longest rail strike in the UK since 1968, the walkout has massively reduced the number of trains running, causing chaos for commuters.
Angry customers have flocked to Twitter to complain about the disruptions. Visibrain analysed today’s conversations around Southern Rail to find out what people had to say, and what the widespread anger could mean for the company.
Thousands of customers tweet their frustration
It may only be the beginning of a 5-day nightmare for commuters, but thousands of people have been tweeting about the first day of the strike.
At the time this article was written, there had already been 15,599 tweets about the Southern Rail Strike:
The #southernstrike hashtag was trending this morning and has been used 4,854 times so far today.
Twitter was filled with messages from customers sharing their terrible experiences on their commute:
The strike divides Twitter
Walkouts are always divisive because of the disruption they cause, and #southernstrike was no exception.
In spite of staff unions stating that the strikes were for Southern Rail customers’ safety, many were not in favour:
I have never even seen a conductor on a Southern Train. Clearly aren't that safety critical. #southernstrike— Jen Salisbury Jones (@JSalisburyJones) August 8, 2016
Passenger safety?? Right, of course. So packing double/triple the amount of people onto the only trains running is safe? #southernstrike— Kelly G (@KLGhair) August 8, 2016
#SouthernStrike is apparently 'solely about safety', yet all it does is causes severe overcrowding on the limited services that they do run— Dan Savage (@DanSavage10) August 8, 2016
However, a number of users spoke up in defence of the strike:
Men & women on the #Southernstrike deserve our support. It's a strike for safety for staff and passengers.— Frances O'Grady (@FrancesOGrady) August 8, 2016
As someone whose commute is disrupted by #southernstrike, I support the workers 100% against the greedy rail bosses who make commuting hell!— Dave Suez (@DaveSuez) August 8, 2016
So, were more people supporting the strikes, or against them? In this case, any kind of sentiment analysis is incredibly difficult due to the fact that irony is often used in tweets:
Let's strike over 'safety' by overcrowding platforms and the reduced (reduced) trains for 5 days...Great idea. #southernstrike— Mark Zissler (@ziss86) August 8, 2016
Lovely hour and a half bus ride to work today. Was really glad to be on a bus before I'd normally be out of bed. Thanks @southernrailuk xoxo— Bunch (@fuckbunch) August 8, 2016
Although the wording of the messages above is positive and would register as positive sentiment in a classic analysis, the tone is obviously ironic.
Instead, to get a better idea of general sentiment, a keyword analysis can be more effective. By focusing on tweets containing the words “solidarity”, “support”, “supporting”, “stand with”, “standing with”, or “behind”, we can see that 762 tweets contained messages of direct support for the strike.
Of course, this number does not take into account more neutral tweets, only messages of direct support containing the keywords featured above. The number is relatively low, but shows us that overall, and in spite of a certain amount of support, customers were understandably more concerned about the poor service and disruptions to their journeys than the reasons behind the strike.
Disaster ahead for Southern Rail?
Whether they were for or against the strikes, everyone seemed to agree on one thing – the abysmal quality of Southern Rail services. The company’s reputation is terrible, with customers constantly complaining about trains being late, cancelled, overcrowded, and overpriced.
The strikes provided the opportunity for the public to vent longstanding frustrations about Southern Rail. The brand experienced a torrent of criticism on Twitter:
Southern Rail strike causes severe delays with few trains and misery for commuters - in other words, a slightly better service than normal.— David Schneider (@davidschneider) August 8, 2016
The bad news is Southern Rail are only operating 60% of trains today. The good news is that's 10% more than usual. #southernstrike— Chuck Thomas (@chuckthomasuk) August 8, 2016
Feel more than annoyed at listening to the CEO of Govia apologising for the inconvenience "this week". It's EVERY day mate. #southernstrike— Amy Lawrence (@gincoffeeshoes) August 8, 2016
The irony of the Southern Rail Strike is that the usual service is so bad that I genuinely can't tell the difference.— Juliet Mushens (@mushenska) August 8, 2016
Worse still for Southern Rail, the strikes also increased the number of people calling for the service to be renationalised or put under new management. Many claimed Southern rail to be incapable of providing a decent service:
@BBCr4today Southern Rail have been awful for months. This isn't about the strike. It's about a franchise that can't meet its obligations.— Ursula Doyle (@suladoyle) August 8, 2016
Whilst we are on about the #southernstrike the whole rail structure needs to nationalised with a simple fares system so a PHd is not needed.— Jim Rabbitts (@GM8LFB) August 8, 2016
Whatever happens, it's clear @SouthernRailUK is an arrogantly managed, totally failed franchise. Government has to put it out of its misery.— Andrew Raeburn (@andrew_raeburn) August 8, 2016
With four more days of strikes yet to come, it’s going to be a tough week for Southern Rail. The increasing anger and frustration from customers is bad news for the company’s already sinking reputation, and possibly for its future as well. Only time will tell if Southern Rail will weather the storm.
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