A SMRT post making its rounds online recently caused a stir online. The post, shared on the company's Facebook page, consisted of a note from a commuter referred to as Mrs Lim showing sympathy and encouragement for its situation.
The post came amidst plans which sees the company working to resolve its breakdown issues. It also comes weeks after the train operator’s collision incident. However, the post also prompted netizens to question the legitimacy of the encouragement note, garnering a mixed response. Some netizens flamed SMRT, while others acknowledged the importance of encouragement to SMRT staff working to resolve the train faults.
Here's the full post:
While image recovery is an important process especially after a PR crisis, PR professionals Marketing spoke to also felt the move felt a little out of place. For Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and managing director of PRecious Communications, the move felt like one which was “very out of context” to pick and share one random comment showing support.
He explained that in a crisis, brands should understand that it’s often not their job to try being loved again, but simply working on being hated less.
“Looking at the severity of the issues SMRT is facing that affect commuters this Facebook post simply seems absurd and out of context,” Voedisch said.
A wiser option would be to publish posts with the objective of addressing SMRT staff. This is to show some encouragement. That being said, internal communications channels might have been a wiser choice in getting that message across.
Also weighing in on the conversation is Preetham Venkky, director at KRDS Singapore, who said that SMRT could have ensured the comment was verifiable rather than just quoting "Mrs Lim" without a first name. According to Venkky, this makes the post seem fake as there are also no links to the original comment, which may lead consumers to think that the feedback was written by SMRT.
"SMRT could have uploaded a screenshot of the positive review, which makes the comment more verifiable and authentic as compared to a Facebook post," Venkky said. He added:
It's not just about the message alone but about driving context.
"Brands miss out on the context, which is essentially what happened in SMRT's case. The comment was not contextualised to verbatim to make it feel authentic. When that happens, negative feedback is bound to happen," Venkky said.
He also added that there was no need for SMRT to limit itself to posting only one positive feedback. In fact, SMRT could have post screenshots of the multiple positive feedback that it has received, as well as publish video testimonials. Venkky also advised companies to not drive PR conversations on social media as it is meant to be a casual platform to engage consumers.
SMRT's communications team has not had the easiest of times recently. Most recently, SMRT came under fire once again for defending itself on social. In a recent Facebook post debunking information being circulated about its CEO Desmond Kuek. Additionally, the train operator called out an online report as “obviously fake!”.
Many netizens took issue with the tone of the post – especially the line “This is obviously fake!” – calling it “unprofessional” and “defensive”. Online sentiment also called the train operator out for having time to refute fake news but not having any to focus on its train updates on its service.
Days before, SMRT copped flak after using the phrase "came into contact" to describe a train collision which resulted in several injuries to commuters. Netizens called out the statement an attempt to “sugarcoat” the train collision and also pointed out that it was inappropriate to use the phrase due to the number of injuries reported. SMRT has also made headlines for sacking employees due to failure of maintenance.