The recent United Airlines incident where a passenger was dragged off the plane because United wanted the seat for a United employee is a good reminder of some social media realities.
The obvious lesson is to not bloody your passengers and drag them off your plane. Or that just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
But sometimes bad stuff happens. And often someone is there to record and publish it for the world to see.
When that happens, the social media / public relations lesson is to not react in a way that makes it worse. Don’t, for example, issue a statement talking about passenger “re-accommodation” that doesn’t suggest any kind of apology or sympathy. Don’t try to deflect responsibility by talking in terms such as an “involuntary de-boarding situation” – or by focussing blame on the passenger. And don’t justify it based on your policies or legal rights. The court of public opinion doesn’t care much about that.
It wasn’t until the third attempt at a response from the CEO that the tone was one of apology and accepting responsibility.
In this case, outrage about the incident was followed by equal outrage about United’s reaction. It resulted in a social media firestorm and some rather amusing barbs and parodies.
United’s stock lost over a billion dollars at one point yesterday.
The bottom line is if your firm is being lambasted on social media – don’t be tone deaf and defensive about it. Take a few minutes to look at it from the public’s perspective before you respond.