Social Media Can Ground an Airline

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Posted At: November 18, 2013 10:15 a.m.
by Lexi Holdbrooks

Lately, all forms of social media are impacting the world of flight. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook give voice to customers of airlines, allowing them to publically express their opinions.

In order to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between the airlines and their publics, airlines now must monitor social media to avoid crises and must be prepared to handle the situation at any given time.

For example, last year a very unruly passenger by the name of Alec Baldwin was removed from an American Airlines flight after he refused to turn off his phone. After he was kicked off the plane, the actor tweeted, “Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericanairisbankrupt.” His tweet reached five million people.

In a scurry to fight the negativity surrounding his tweet, Weber Shandwick defended its client by releasing an official statement on American Airlines’ Facebook page the morning after the incident detailing why Baldwin was kicked off the plane. The statement changed the conversation from anti American Airlines to anti Alec Baldwin. The post was “liked” 6,000 times and commented on 27,230 times, which reached a total of 38 million people.

Weber Shandwick received the “Best Crisis Management” award from PR Daily’s PR and Social Media Awards for taking control of the message before it was blown further out of proportion.

United Airlines had a slightly different and less fortunate experience with social media. In 2008, the airline’s baggage handlers destroyed Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar and refused to offer reimbursement for the damage. Carroll responded to United’s insensitivity with a YouTube song titled “United Breaks Guitars” that became a viral sensation. After 150,000 views on YouTube, United offered to pay Carroll to take the song down. Carroll refused and the video has been viewed 13,579,462 times to date.

The 13 million views does not include the various spinoffs made by other unhappy customers and Carroll’s recently written book “United Breaks Guitars: The power of one voice in the age of social media.” The book emphasizes the importance of knowing we are all now connected because of social media and that one voice can ultimately destroy a company.

Supposedly, United lost 10 percent of its stock in the days following the video going online.

These two examples show how social media can be a company’s worst nightmare. However, it can be controlled and maintained with proper planning and transparent communication.

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