Crisis Communications: Taking Control of the Story

10 Aug Crisis Communications: Taking Control of the Story

Social media has become an import tool for crisis communications. Recent airline computer outages are the perfect example. Delta announced a glitch on Monday that would lead to nearly 4,000 flights being canceled. Airline staff and passengers alike immediately took to social media, primarily Twitter, to talk about the situation.

Unfortunately, system failures are not an uncommon occurrence anymore.

When these incidents happen, it quickly becomes more about how the company handles the situation and the message they put forth rather than the actual problem. My colleague, Pete, discussed the importance of a company’s message when they want to get noticed. The same tactics can be applied when a company is in the hot seat and getting a lot of unwanted attention. Crisis communications is about how we take control of the story.

Pete noted that having a social media presence is a given, but you can’t just throw up a couple tweets or Facebook posts and call it a day. You need to engage, you need to think outside of the box, and in a crisis situation you need to be ahead of the game and steer the message.

In Delta’s situation, the airline immediately started issuing refunds and waivers where they could. They used Twitter along with the website corporate newsroom to disseminate news quickly. As an example of ‘thinking outside of the box’, Delta CEO Ed Bastian released a video apology over Twitter in between constant updates on flight and system statuses.

Last month, Southwest experienced similar computer problems and took hold of the conversation. They focused on the heartwarming connections made by missed/cancelled flights rather than let the audience drive the message. Southwest featured passenger stories on their blog –

“A young lady in San Jose wasn’t able to get home to her parents in time to celebrate her birthday, and on one of our internal groups, employees shared the story about how they banded together to throw her a birthday party in the airport to lift her spirits. This is a situation that neither the employees nor the customers planned to be in, or should have had to deal with. But it’s also not in the job description to throw birthday parties.”

The airline didn’t minimize the problem they created and took full responsibility –

“Make no mistake, Southwest created this problem. We own that, and there is no victory lap to be had for a situation that has bred disappointment and shaken the trust customers have in Southwest Airlines. But during a terrible situation such as this, Love Above All remained the theme, as we tried to get everyone back in the air.”

By focusing on these connections, SouthWest put people at the center of its crisis narrative. Although many were still angered by the delays and cancellations, the airline was able to favorably control the message.

While Delta is still dealing with the remnants of Monday’s outage, it’s a good reminder for all of us public relations-minded folks to always keep an eye on the message. The method of how we tell the story may change depending on the situation, but we should always steer the conversation.

Feature image: https://vimeo.com/142549917

Jessica Lindberg
jlindberg@speakerboxpr.com
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