By now we have all seen the jaw-dropping and shocking pictures and videos of the man literally being dragged off a plane.
What did these videos and pictures actually say?
It showed a customer being told by a business; that we don't need you and we only care about ourselves! The fact remains; that customers were being asked to leave the plane so United Airlines staff could be accommodated.
The initial response from the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz (who ironically was honoured with the title, 'Communicator of the Year' by PRWeek, just a few weeks ago) was to send, an email endorsing and supporting the behaviour of the staff and basically backing them. While staff and a few news outlets were reading this email/statement... The rest of the world via social media, was watching a respected GP being literally being dragged off one his planes; while screaming and shouting, with blood pouring from his face. You can also hear other horrified passengers shrieking and shouting... 'Oh My God!' All this while taking pictures and videos on their smart phones.
It shouldn't and doesn't take a PR genius to work out that this is not going to end well for the airline and they have made a huge mistake. By the way, it should be noted that the CEO sent his email even after seeing these pictures and videos.
What happened next?
We need to remember we are no longer living in the 1990's... We don't have to wait until 6pm, before we get home to turn the TV on to see the news. The news is literally in the palm of our hands and on our desktops. We don't have to search for it either, 'trending' news items and things our friends are talking about are sent to us as alerts. I also have to say this; it takes a rather ignorant CEO & PR team to think that people would back the giant corporate airline over a GP. Have they forgotten marketing basics?
The CEO, after watching his share price plunge approx 4% or dropping by $1bn... eventually got round to doing what he should have done in the first place... He apologised; however it's safe to say damage has been done. Just think, imagine if the CEO had been pictured with the GP and apologised publicly straightaway, rather than waiting 21 hours?
Newspapers, online channels and social media would have seen smiling pictures of Oscar Munoz pictured with the GP, Yes, the videos would still be out there, but at least people would understand that a mistake was made and the CEO himself has acknowledged this and tried to right a wrong.
Instead, twitter has gone into overdrive with more and more people getting involved and hashtags like #BoycottUnited trending. In addition to this, United Airlines have managed to anger China. Once again, it doesn't take a PR genius to tell you that you don't really want to be angering the people of arguably the World's biggest economy.
There are even allegations and confirmed tweets about Twitter actually DELETING negative tweets about United Airlines. This is not what I call good crisis management.
So whichever way you slice it, this whole situation has been a PR nightmare and the United Airlines PR Team & the CEO himself have grossly underestimated the power of social media. Did they really think this was a small incident that would appear as a bit part story in the Chicago local press and were they that naive to think ' a CEO supporting his staff' would come out on top? This is now World news and isn't just on social media.
Whether the CEO understands social media or not, his PR team should. If the CEO doesn't understand social media, then why not??? We are in 2017, a CEO, and for that matter, all members of the C-Suite should have an understanding of social media and how it works. I am not saying they should understand analytics and strategy, but they should know the difference between a tweet and retweet, what followers are, what's a hashtag and reach vs. engagement.
I admire the Director's who book on to my 1-2-1 social media training sessions and I applaud C-Suite representatives who attend my social media peer-to-peer learning workshops. They are forward thinking and understanding of the importance of social media for their respective brands & companies; and also for their own personal branding and how they can use social media .
I would like to add to this point is, what a lot of people forget is that; more than anything, social media is a listening tool. It's not about who can create the most choreographed statement. It's about being part of the conversation and responding.
While writing this article I took a glance to the United Airlines twitter channel, ironically called @United. There are just a couple of tweets in the form of statements regarding this issue. Even within the replies, they are not engaging in the conversation about the issue. You can see someone in the United Airlines Ivory Tower has said, 'make sure we put something out on twitter' and then moved on to the next order of business. Where's the human touch in all this I ask?
They should be using LIVE video via Twitter and Facebook and the CEO appearing to publicly apologise, rather than creating carefully crafted statements and sending them out as a press release or attached to a tweet.. They are simply not getting social media!
However, rather than simply criticising, I would like to offer United Airlines a solution. Yes, I believe they should be using some of my recommendations and I would even be happy to assist them. So Oscar, if you want to resolve this situation, email me or drop me a line on 0792 537 9528.
Finally... This is a parody United Airlines Ad video, currently doing the rounds... This is a YouTube version, however it has already been seen by millions on TV and social media platforms..., Enjoy!