Monday, 31 October 2011

Qantas aren’t so social in a crisis

Australian airline Qantas got a digital spanking over the weekend, whilst many of its on the ground staff were ‘locked out’ during trade union talks over working conditions.

Qantas grounded all of its flights during strike action and saw over 70,000 customers affected but it wasn’t so much the cancelations that infuriated people. It was their robotic, impersonal approach via their social media feeds that sparked the backlash.

With no staff to man information desks, disgruntled passengers were forced to turn to the Qantas Twitter feed for answers. Social media gave Qantas the opportunity to make amends for all the disruption but rather than engaging and responding (i.e. what you’re meant to do on social media), bosses chose not to respond to messages at all for 48 hours and simply sent out robotic one way tweets to explain what was happening. Perhaps the guys who normally respond to @messages were also on strike!

For such a well-respected airline to completely change the way it communicated with its customers during their time of need was not the best of moves. This was demonstrated by several new fake Twitter accounts popping up during the chaos poking fun at Qantas and its CEO, Alan Joyce, including @AlanJoyceCEO and @Qantas_VH_OQA, whilst a new Facebook page entitled ‘Lock out Alan Joyce, not Qantas workers’, quickly amassed 6,000 likes.

I appreciate that the sheer volume of tweets directed at Qantas’ Twitter feeds would have made responding to all an unenviable task. After all Qantas and Joyce were trending worldwide at points over the weekend, indicating in excess of 1,000 tweets per minute. However, I’m sure many of these tweets would have been people venting their annoyance at their flight being cancelled to their followers or news feeds reporting the delays. The actual number of people messaging @QantasAirways would have been significantly lower and I’m sure a lot of those messages would have been asking the same question and could have therefore be dealt with in blocks. Perhaps in hindsight Qantas bosses might have planned for additional resources to manage their social media feeds once they knew the strikes were taking place. The positive news is that after all the criticism they have now reverted back to being social again and are responding to their customers individually once more.

This isn’t the first time a major brand has been criticised for its social media failings and will certainly not be the last. There is no one set of rules that will prevent companies using Twitter or Facebook from ever being criticised online. But there is one that they should all adopt - Learn from your mistakes. Let’s hope Qantas take that on-board.


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