Transport for London

A review of the Transport for London website, written for PR Week WorldWire after the London bombings.

Transport for London http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/

Dateline 12 July 2005

When news stories are as sudden and fast-changing as the terrorist attacks on what we are probably going to end up calling 7/7, an organisation’s website becomes its key communication vehicle. As new information comes to light, it is important to update the public and the press with information about the breaking story.

In this case, the scale of the public and media interest was simply staggering. On an average day visits to TfL’s online news centre vary from around 1300 to 4,000. On Friday 08 July they were over 94,000.

Tragedies of this magnitude pose some of the most significant challenges for PR professionals. To create a tone which acknowledges the anger and frustration of grieving relatives, while simultaneously handling the more mundane enquiries is an exquisite balance to strike. The vast majority of TfL’s passengers were only very indirectly affected by the bombings and were most concerned with finding out how they could complete their journeys.

The immediate reaction on the website is only the first stage of getting a digital strategy right. Oyster customers are among those TfL was able to contact by e-mail the following day with the reassuring message that most lines were already restored to normal. It is in the nature of the business that TfL does not have this direct relationship with all its customers, but even on the limited scale in which it could be implemented, such communications are undoubtedly effective.

Several days after the events themselves, the bombings still dominate TfL’s website. From the message of sympathy and condolence to revised engineering schedules, and their impact on people traveling to the Proms and REM, reactions to last week’s events are on every part of the site. It is in the nature of web-based communication that visitors to the site can rapidly select the message which interests them without being overly affected by messages which seem (to them) to strike the wrong tone.

Overall, according to a spokesperson, TfL’s comms team and the organisation as a whole were both pleased with the success of the online strategy. It is a long way from the chalk boards at station entrances and incomprehensible public announcements with which the Tube is normally associated.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 12 July 2005

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