What United Airlines Was Missing: Social Media Advocacy

There have been several #BrandFails recently, but the recent controversy with United Airlines may just take the cake. As many people know, chaos erupted when a United passenger was forcibly removed involuntarily from an overbooked flight. Video footage of the incident surfaced, showing that the encounter was violent and left the 69-year old man screaming and bleeding as he is dragged by his hands and feet from the plane. The CEO initially released a statement, seemingly standing by the company’s actions.

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

-Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines

From there, things just got worse- people’s outrage at the incident and the company response sparked a flood of social media posts of people condemning United, speaking up about their own bad experiences with the company, and generally just making fun of the entire fiasco.

Much of the outrage from the public went from initial horror at the event that transpired on the plane to disgust with the company’s inhumane and callous, “corporate” response to the treatment of the passenger, and the lack of urgency in apologizing for and remedying the incident. Public relations experts and the general public alike seem to agree that the CEO and other representatives of the company should have immediately offered an apology.

After the public outcry became too large to ignore, the CEO did attempt to backtrack, issuing a second statement, where he apologized and attempted to explain the reasoning behind the incident, and finally, a third statement where he called the incident “truly horrific”. At this point, however, it was much too late and people viewed this response not as genuine, but an attempt to prevent any further damage to the company’s reputation.

From a PR standpoint, the situation escalated into a disaster. From a marketing standpoint, the situation exposes a missed opportunity for United employees to engage with the public and de-escalate the situation.

How could United have handled this situation in a better way? First, they should have apologized immediately for the incident, and for the gross mistreatment of the passenger involved. Beyond that, however, United could have confirmed their genuine regret and dedication to prevent further incidents by getting the employees involved. United could have put up a united front, with employees throughout the company playing a part in expressing that they recognize the graveness of the incident and are committed both to preventing it from being repeated and to ensuring customer satisfaction in the future.

But how, you might ask, could this be done? United could have developed an emergency response campaign, enlisting employees to get active on social media and post apologies on behalf of, and as a part of, the company. These apologies from average employees would convey to the general public that United was so committed to fixing this problem that it ensured that there was company-wide communication about the incident and a company-wide pledge to take ownership of the incident and move past it by working hard to improve customer satisfaction.

The challenge to this strategy is finding a seamless way to facilitate the execution of it amongst the thousands of United employees- that’s where Fanzee comes in. Fanzee delivers an end-to-end solution that makes it easy to coordinate and execute social media advocacy campaigns with an entire organization. With the help of Fanzee, companies can get in front of  potentially catastrophic PR events through social media advocacy with employees as well as customers and supporters. Click here to learn more about how Fanzee can help facilitate a powerful social media advocacy campaign.