Qantas and Social Media – what went wrong?

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November 2, 2011 by dannybishopcreative

On Saturday October 29th, 2011 Qantas decided that they would ground their entire fleet in response to industrial action. Over the next 40 hours the company received a lot of flak for the way they handled the situation via their social media channels of Facebook and Twitter.

On Monday morning I spoke with Fairfax journalist Asher Moses about the social media fallout for an article he was writing for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.  Most of the information I provided ended up unused, so I thought I would present most of the notes I prepared here.

Twitter followers - easy to get, hard to keepCertainly I found it interesting that Qantas wasn’t more involved in managing the thread of conversion around their actions.

On Facebook they posted 13 updates between Saturday afternoon announcement and 9am Monday morning. On twitter they posted 40 updates in the same time period.

Of most interest however is the method of interaction with their 65,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 Facebook friends. Prior to this event Qantas seemingly understood the importance of using social media as a dialog between the company and its customers. From the moment the CEO made the announcement regarding the grounding of the fleet the social media channels became pure one way communication. They moved from a dialog back to a monologue.

Looking over the company’s official twitter account mid morning on Monday the 30th reveals that they began engaging with concerned customers once more, but over the weekend when customers where most concerned about the potential disruption to their travel plans the company was not managing their reputation proactively.

It underlines two main issues that I have spoken with clients about over the last few years: Firstly, that social media is a 24/7 space, and secondly that community managers need to be trusted to interact with your customers when things aren’t going your way.

The fact that both on Twitter and Facebook the company went back to a broadcast mode (as opposed to a discussion mode) may reflect one or both of these factors being an issue for Qantas.

A company like Qantas should have brought their social media team together the moment the action was approved and management were aware of the decision. The fact that the company went into one way communication over the weekend may reflect that the team in charge of Social Media were given little warning and as a result of the action taking place outside of standard business hours they did not meet to develop a more thorough strategy until Monday morning.

The other possibility is that senior management asked the company’s social media team not to engage with customers. This is a distinct possibility as many companies feel that responding to upset customers may turn into an online argument that benefits no one.  This point of view is often a reflection of the fear that the whole reputation of the company is on show through a relatively junior person in charge of the Twitter account or Facebook account.

The question needs to be asked of any company;  If you don’t trust the person who has access to your Facebook or Twitter account to respond when it is most important why are they in that position?  I have always suggested to our clients that they have employ a community manager whom they trust in the good times and in the moments when things go wrong.

If I were to review Qantas’ efforts over the Saturday to Monday morning period in Social Media I would tell them they should have immediately gotten their team together on Saturday afternoon, developed a strategy for responding to the different contacts the company was receiving – both angry and supportive, develop moderation guidelines for the Facebook page and go about engaging the general public online as a form of both reputation management and empathy for affected customers.

In the vacuum they left by going into the monolog mode they allowed misinformation to spread around the size of Alan Joyce’s pay packet, the demands of the unions and also gave clear reign to the fake @AlanJoyceCEO account which was retweeted regularly over the weekend.

The fake CEO account is most interesting in that in most people’s twitter timelines the account would appear legitimate unless they click through to the full account bio which reveals its illegitimate nature.  Tweets from the fake account were retweeted and effectively shown out of context in the timelines over many more than the few thousand people who follow @AlanJoyceCEO. How many of those people believed the real CEO of Qantas said “Screw the Melbourne Cup, I’m the CEO that stops a nation.”, a tweet than has been seen by several hundred thousand twitter users after being retweeted more than 500 times?

No matter whose side you’re on in the industrial action, Qantas’ actions in Social Media over the weekend were not up to the standards anyone could rightly expect from a truly well run company committed to engaging its customers online.

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