Twitter blows the whistle on Southern Rail strikes

August 8 2016
Published in Crisis

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:

An overview of tweet volumes around the Southern Rail Strikes

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:

However, a number of users spoke up in defence of the strike:

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:

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.

Tweets showing support for the Southern Rail strikes

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:

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:

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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Published in Crisis