Airline Social Media Crisis Management in a Digital World

The headlines this past month have been dominated by the airline industry and definitely not in a good way. A customer service industry at its core, airlines can ill-afford to have their brand reputation, service expectations and their crew rake in mistrust and bad press. From losing loyalty customers – customers filmed themselves destroying their membership cards live, to millions of tweets of social dissent hitting the airline stocks and upsetting a complete country of potential passengers – the hard reality of airlines being “digitally unprepared” for social customer service crisis has been laid bare.

Let’s map it out – The past weeks have brought home the impact of mobiles, digital technology and global connectivity where an airline’s behaviors and in-flight services have been recorded and will live on digitally for a long, long time for all to see. The time to react, the time to fix or even understand who’s at fault does not exist anymore. When a video goes up, the passenger’s pain takes the center stage and airlines face the blame, as other disgruntled passengers add their stories to the mix, further creating a social media tsunami. And this is reaching in real-time to anybody with a wi-fi connection – i.e. one-third of the world’s population. Consider these numbers:

• 28% of all crises spreads to international media within the first hour
• 69% of crises spreads internationally within 24 hours and on average reach 11 countries
• On average, companies take 21 hours to issue communications to defend themselves

As we can see, time remains a crucial element of crisis communications in the digital world. While social becomes a boom box for bad news in minutes, the same platform can be correctly utilized as a communications tool, and manner in which a bad news can escalate, so can a positive one.

What does this mean for airlines? Is there a new crisis management that needs to kick in every time a video goes up showing crying customers or fighting crews? Well, to labor the point, here is a checklist of crisis management techniques that airlines must do:

1) Stay connected & visible:  Particularly the leadership should not be staying silent as they try to “figure” things out internally. Be visible, keep responding, humanize the situation with video posts and instead of playing the blame game, apologize for the experience and promise to get to the bottom of it. Make sure the communications team shares the responses in a timely way across channels where dissent has already begun to curtail it. You’ll need a strong team that combines PR, social and legal to stay connected and lead communications.

2) Monitor online conversations: The pressure will go up in the first 24hrs as it hits an average of 11 countries. By becoming a trending topic, your average call center will not be able to take up all the queries and close them – especially as it expands geographically. Therefore a backup IRROPS team is required to manage the increase in the online conversations quickly, listen and respond quickly best mitigate the situation. You’ll need partners that offer digital omni-channel services with multi-lingual customer experience management. Airlines should own the social conversation by issuing an official hashtag and use it to quickly outrank keyword searches and reassure all that the airline will actively share information on the situation as it develops.

3) Ramp-up in Real-time: Multi-channels and global nature of social add to the difficulty of managing conversations. So have a ready ‘on-demand ramp ups’ team – at IGT this is a taskforce of agents across global delivery centers, speaking over 20 languages, ready for immediate support and crucial communications when things go wrong. Use a hub-and-spoke system, having a central place where information is posted, then promote it across different channels deriving audience to the information. In such cases, a co-ordinated and connected is crucial so there are no mishaps like inconsistency in the information shared.

4) Integrated communications solution: Transparency and consistency of information is crucial, so employees, crisis communication teams and the global customers are on the same page. Ensure consistent messaging across all channels where is there is a presence and remove promotional content. Common mistakes such as inconsistencies in information shared, leaving out certain digital channels and irregular updates to employees should be avoided. It’s great to update Twitter and website, but do not leave out other digital properties like Instagram, Facebook or regional players like WeChat or Weibo. Prepare to have digital assets ready and share the same information on all channels to keep negativity at the minimum.

And this exercise is to be carried on for the entire duration of the crisis. The last exercise is to gather and review the data and analyse the behaviour across geographies to benchmark best practices for the future. Having a 3rd party or an outsourcing partner at such juncture can help to manage, monitor and contain crisis on-ground and online as it happens.

IGT leverages Integrated IT-BPO solutions that best suited to cater to the needs of the ever dynamic travel ecosystem. IGT offers multi-channel, multi-lingual customer experience management through its digital contact centers spanning across multiple continents. With a handle on over 20 languages, intelligent digitalization of processes, domain experts drive capabilities that connect customer experience and rapid execution. Speech Analytics too add critical value in having full knowledge of the sentiment of travelers BPO engages and communicates with.

IGT’s social media management and Social Media Contact Center Solutions, are ready for the future of personalization and connected traveler – in times of crisis and calm.

About the Author:
Renee Kishore is digital marketing specialist, and a published author. A researcher and writer of change tactics and technologies in travel and other verticals, she frequently posts across the digital ecosystem. With 8-yrs of experience in communications and marketing, Renee has a passion for discussions and can be reached at: