Would you put a 15-year-old in charge of your social media?

#AskEddie tweetSouthern Rail, seemingly one of the UK’s most troubled rail companies, has a rather active social media presence – but not necessarily a positive one. This week they put 15-year-old, Eddie, a work experience student, in charge of the company’s Twitter feed for a day.

You’d be forgiven for shouting “nooooooo” at your screen right now, but, after a shaky start with a #prayforEddie hashtag and some focused trolling from the social media community, an unexpected thing happened. Eddie managed to turn the normally hostile and complaining Southern Rail Twitter feed into a light-hearted space. After a reminder from Southern that he was a still a teenager and to “lay off the abuse for a bit”, Eddie used #AskEddie to entertain delayed passengers with witty answers, which were soon a Twitter sensation.

#AskEddie tweet about sloth#AskEddie tweet about pasta

When Eddie went for his lunch break people were asking when he would be back, demanding he be given a permanent job, and some were even calling for Eddie to be Prime Minister! Eddie’s short return the day after was greeted by 1,500 likes.

#AskEddie returns

With his heartwarming Twitter replies Eddie managed to not only win over frustrated passengers, but he also briefly turned Southern Rail’s brand image on its head – all in just a couple of hours. This unwitting intern has hit headlines across the UK and is doing radio interviews as I type, giving Southern Rail a major spike in positive PR.

So what can other brands take away from this? Is putting a teenager in charge of your social media the answer? No – luckily child labor is not the way forward!

What Eddie did was bring a new level of humanity and empathy to the Southern Rail brand. People were no longer tweeting a corporate machine, they were tweeting a young man, who was vulnerable – experiencing the world of work for the first time – and they connected with that. The lesson therefore is simply that brands need to think about what sort of relationship they have with their customers online. Are they engaging with their audience? Are they creating real connections? Are they creating a welcoming, safe space for their customers to interact with the brand, and each other, online? In other words, are they creating a trusted space that builds their relationship with their customers?

To read more about engaging with customers via social media, download our free guide ‘Marketing in a Social Age: Rewards and Risks’.