11 lines, 270 stations and over 1 billion annual passengers – when a tube strike hits London the capital spirals into a chaotic frenzy and grinds to a standstill.
On Wednesday 5th August at 6:30pm, now becoming somewhat synonymous with British culture (yes it’s chaos but the orderly people of London will still queue for their alternative means of transport), the bickering between four unions and TFL seniors came to the forefront once more and brought the London Underground to a halt for 24 hours.
As expected, commuters jumped on board the #tubestrike bandwagon to vent their frustration, sulk, applaud the protest or celebrate – and before long #tubestrike was trending nationally.
Using Crimson Hexagon’s social media analytics platform, sentiment either clearly in support or clearly against the strike was captured. In the week of the strike, there were 57,218 #tubestrike mentions on Twitter, however many of these have been disregarded as irrelevant or off-topic as several tweets and retweets would often (for example) cover posts in news stories or live updates. These tweets were categorised as irrelevant or off-topic as the #tubestrike data analysed in this instance was to measure discernible sentiment either in support or against the strike.
On the first day of the strike (Wednesday 5th August), 2,557 posts were registered in support/positive of the action and 4,551 posts were against/negative. On the second day (Thursday 6th August), 3,668 #tubestrike mentions were positive and 6,378 were negative. For the most part, opinion before and after the strike (Monday, Tuesday & Friday) was negative.
Concerning the posts with clear sentiment, words and language against the protest would fluctuate in theme, for example ‘nurses’ seeing 762 mentions, ‘driverless’ 234 mentions and ‘hate’ 109 mentions. Meanwhile those in support of the strike would be more consistent with their language, in particular ‘solidarity’ seeing 667 mentions.
I said it last time and I'll say it again – driverless trains can't come to London quickly enough #tubestrike
— mikerobb (@mikerobb) August 6, 2015
— Nicole ‘Gloss’ Reece (@Gloss80Official) August 6, 2015
In the initial hours of the tube strike, the #tubestrike tag would simply act as a medium for Londoners to voice their support or disdain at the walkout, but before long, brands joined in parallel to seize on the opportunity to capitalise on the trend.
In the world of marketing, the #tubestrike serves as a prime example of how companies and organisations (big and small) have learned to react to situations in real-time on social media – taking advantage of the brand visibility obtained, pushing a product or message, or simply benefiting their PR.
Here are a few examples:
Uber kicked off a #KeepLondonMoving campaign to coincide with the strike.
— Uber UK (@UberUK) August 6, 2015
O2 took the opportunity to give their #WaggyTails campaign a boost.
#tubestrike isn't fun.
— O2 in the UK (@O2) August 6, 2015
Sky highlighted their box set availability for those with a little extra time to kill…
— Sky (@SkyUK) August 6, 2015
And before long, many commuters dropped the #tubestrike in a sign of acceptance and picked up #whattubestrike, taking to social media to share positive messages of their journey into work or home. Whether because they had far less difficulty navigating London than anticipated, or if they just chose another method of transport and enjoyed it.
— Fiona English (@englishruns) August 6, 2015
Dreamy bus journey to work. And on time #whattubestrike
— Alice Briggs (@AliceSarahB) August 6, 2015
Of course, London Underground staff walkouts cause huge disruption to the capital, and the costs counted for businesses is regularly quoted from anywhere between £10m to £300m – but really, there is nothing that we can do about it, and it should not come as a surprise. Christmas day doesn’t come as a surprise…
In the completely transformed working landscape, with an exponentially growing digital economy and ever powerful presence of social media, is it time to just embrace the inevitable and do the best that we can? Clearly resolution talks are not going particularly well as it’s not over just yet. Two further strikes have been announced to take place on Tuesday 25 August and Thursday 27 August.
Public mood will fluctuate on the day of a #tubestrike. Many will pick a side and over the day get more emotionally invested. Many will pick a side and eventually lose interest. Many will look to avoid fuelling the fire altogether and light-heartedly enjoy the protest. Companies and brands that ‘play the game’ will capitalise most and see the greatest ROI for their efforts.
Tapping into conversation and sentiment on social media can help indicate which strategies for engagement and brand awareness will work and which might miss the mark when it comes to occurrences like the tube strike.
We know when the next one is, best get planning…