50 days of human comms #52: London Underground tube boards


Just last week I wrote about what the first 50 days of blogging examples of human comms looks like.

One observation was that human comms seems like a thing that takes place out-of-London, not on corporate accounts and definitely from people on the frontline.

One person, quite rightly, pointed out that there were examples of just this in the capital. Tube messageboards are the perfect example of comms in the 21st century. Something physical. Something human. Som,ething transient. And something that can at the same time be quickly shared in a photograph online.

There have been wipe clean whiteboards at London underground stations for decades. Their primary role is to share travel advice and important information.

But at some point in around 2009 they started to crop up on Twitter as a picture where a member of staff had written a thought for the day or a homily.

Two great things then happened. First, people took photos of them and then shared them. Second, and I’m only guessing at this, when their viral spread was reported back to the comms team nobody moved to close them down.

They are beautiful and they are human precisely because they have a human message written on them.

What do they say? That London Underground staff employ real people who, like you, are trying to get through their day as best they can. It’s a spirit that corporate London Underground posters to remind people not to abuse staff attempt to tap into.

Tube messages as fake news

In the aftermath of the London Bridge attack, Prime Minister Teresa May read out a message that reminded terrorists that “THIS IS LONDON… We will carry on.”

It was a message that struck a chord and was widely shared. That it was created by a Tube message generatorΒ raised eyebrows. But it didn’t detract from the message itself.

But they can sum up the national mood in adversity

They can sum up the national mood when someone famous has made a mark.

They can go for the inspirational quote

Or they can offer something pithy to reflect on on a journey

They can brighten the journey

And they can help deliver messages using a human tone

For me, tube messages represent the best of many worlds. Easy to deliver. Shareable. Funny. Witty. Reflective. All in a human voice.

But how to take this approach in your organisation? That’s the tricky part. You need trust. You need engaged workforce. You need a whiteboard and a whiteboard marker. But most of all you need trust.

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