How can you handle a social media crisis?

Photo: Jason Howie, Aero Icarus, Creative Commons

Photo: Jason Howie, Aero Icarus, Creative Commons

The strategy of American Airlines regarding a viral tweet shows how companies can successfully handle a crisis on social media

This article was written by Anders Pettersson while at Sound Public Relations in Milan, Italy, in 2014. For his original article in Italian, click here.

In the age of social media, the possibility of a customer complaint going viral could profoundly harm a company’s reputation.

Many saw businessman Hasan Syed’s promoted tweet that complained about British Airways. “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous”, the tweet read and quickly made headlines around the world since it showed a new dimension to what promoted tweets can be used for. A simple customer complaint of one person took on a David and Goliath-aspect in the press and damaged the reputation of British Airways.

Another airline that was caught in a social media firestorm was American Airlines when actor Alec Baldwin was thrown off his flight in December of 2012. The Hollywood star was reportedly foul-mouthed, unruly and refused to turn off his phone during take-off.

“Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericanairisbankrupt”, the star tweeted.

The tweet reached 5 million people and made American Airlines look cold and insensitive dealing with the favourite actor of people around the world. The incident went viral and Baldwin even mocked the airline on Saturday Night Live.

The strategy of American Airlines in handling the incident showed how a company can successfully handle a viral social media crisis. Within minutes of the tweet, the airline launched its own campaign, explaining how everybody needs to comply with FAA rules and behave in a correct manner toward the cabin crew.

An official statement of the airline on their Facebook page explained the position of American Airlines, reaching an estimated 38 million people, helping to steer the conversation to how celebrities have to follow the same rules as everyone else.

“We get tweets from celebrities all the time and we never know when something is going to go viral. We decided as a team to be as responsive as possible and to be really proactive about customer service in social media from that moment on”, Stephanie Scott explained.

The social media team of American Airlines was awarded the PR Daily’s Digital PR and Social Media Award for the effort. They took best practices from the incident to enhance its social media issues management plan for the future.

Companies all around the world are adapting to handling potential social media crises. Sound Public Relations has access to an exclusive tool for the simulation of online crises, the so called Online War Room. With the help of this tool we can prepare our clients on how to act correctly in a such situations. The platform has been developed by our PRGN-partner agency Ground Floor Media, in Denver, Colorado. Find out more here.

Sound Public Relations and Ground Floor Media are both members of the PRGN – Public Relations Global Network.

Author: Anders Pettersson, PR Assistant at Sound Public Relations, Milan, Italy (20 January, 2014).

© Sound Public Relations 2014

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