Let’s start with the positive: unlike last week, this time, the social media team didn’t make a bad situation worse.
Of course, it is also possible that the social media team was shocked into silence. I mean, how do you react to multiple videos showing how a paying customer is being beaten bloody and dragged out of the plane because he didn’t “volunteer” to give up his seat for a United staff member? Maybe like this?
The United Airlines social media team leader after checking mentions of #United (via GIPHY)
Of course, that did not stop late night tv and the internet from telling United Airlines how they felt about the incident.
Here is a selection of reactions:
Business, Economy, Fight Club!
United Airlines is pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights- in addition to United First and Economy Plus we introduce…. pic.twitter.com/KQjPClU2d2
— McNeil (@Reflog_18) April 10, 2017
We have been doing this for a loooong time …
— Motivation (@motivation0907) April 11, 2017
“Reaching out” by the CEO has never felt so genuine.
— (((?Timurid?))) (@Muggle_e_Azam) April 11, 2017
The competition was also fast to react:
— Joseph Alani (@JosephAlani) April 11, 2017
You might wonder, why I’m sharing this story and whether there is anything to be learnt from it – aside from “don’t beat your paying customers”. To be honest, my reasons are 90% pure incredulity, but it would also have been possible to handle this better from a PR perspective. For example with compassion from the CEO, rather than by alternatively blaming the victim (in the latter to employees) and hiding behind vapid corporate speech (in the statement).
Here is the short statement that was also referenced by Jimmy Kimmel above:
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
And here is a suggestions how the longer letter to employees could have been improved:
— Mark Kogan (@markskogan) April 11, 2017
Update 12 April: After a day of relentless, negative media coverage, including serious backlash in China, United’s CEO released a revised statement that is much more appropriate to the situation and shows the compassion that was missing from his earlier statements. However, whether this is credible, given his earlier statements is an entirely different matter. In fact, the text reads so different from what they published yesterday and last week, that it makes me wonder whether they brought in external help to manage the fallout. In any case, here is the revised statement:
— United (@united) April 11, 2017
Do you have thoughts on this? Please leave a comment below!