Business comment: Sorry Southern has the Midas touch

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The sorry Southern saga stuttered on yesterday when the rail operator’s attempts to garner public support spectacularly backfired.

In its latest effort to defeat the RMT union, Southern opened its PR playbook and selected the ‘nuclear’ option, calling on commuters to tweet the union and ’tell them how rail strikes make you feel’.

The word ‘nuclear’, however, is often followed by ‘disaster’. Judging by the public and national media reaction, it was no different here.

In the months of bitter dispute, Southern appears to have had the Midas touch. But rather than turning everything to gold, each action has turned passengers cold.

And yesterday, they were mercilessly trolled.

The arguments behind Southern’s call to ‘strike back’ against the RMT were invisible. It mattered not how compelling they were.

The points were lost amid a sea of support for the union – presumably in a show of solidarity against the shoddy spectacle that was Southern’s tactics.

With the nationals circling and the Twitter backlash growing, the one thing Southern did right was to avoid ‘pinning’ the rallying call atop its Twitter feed.

Sadly, only a long list of delays buried the message deep down its feed.

Meanwhile, other companies were making reputation capital out of solid social media.

Sainsbury’s cracked it by ‘releasing’ vegan cheese named Gary, in response to a Facebook rant.

Even Rowntree’s made the most of Southern’s situation, sending a commuter a bag of fruit pastilles after he mentioned the brand in a train-related rant.

All Southern got was a bill for a double-page advert in Metro.

I wonder if the rage against Southern was fuelled as customers browsed the newspaper from the platforms – waiting, hoping their train would not be late again.

If Southern needs so much public help, is it time to nationalise the franchise?