We live in an age where information travels further and faster than it ever has before. Social media platforms, online publications, alerts… they are all a constant stream of current news viewed by millions of people on mobile devices on the go. Just have a look at how many tweets or emails have been sent today: it might shock you.
The United PR saga began with a pair of leggings. Passengers were not allowed to board a plane due to their attire. That struck a chord in a society where the way we dress is changing: athleisure, it has been said, is the new casual. Alone, that story might not have had legs for a company that had enjoyed a reputation for communicating well.
However, if the leggings were a jolt at take-off, the airline soon hit full-blown turbulence, when a passenger refused to get off an over-booked flight and was forcibly removed.
Thanks to the power of smartphones, images of the passenger’s bloody ordeal flooded the web. United’s statement was vague, didn’t address the issue, and worst of all implicitly blamed the customer. As a result, the reaction of the public was outrage at the company’s response, blowing the crisis into new proportions.
Eventually the CEO was forced to release a further statement focusing on care for customers and sorrow for the passenger, but the reputational damage was done.
In the latest episode of the United PR drama, a giant rabbit, expected to be the world’s biggest, died during one of its flights. The reaction from the company definitely improved; but, given the other incidents, the press gave more importance to the case than normal. In a statement, the airline said it was “saddened to hear this news” and offered to pay for a necropsy, which is part of their protocol.
It is clear that the crisis and reputation management on United’s behalf has been somewhat lacking and should have included a better strategy. Speed is, of course, key when it comes to reactive statements – but so is sincerity. Customer, animal and staff wellbeing will always be the public’s priority. People want to know you will take responsibility when necessary, and how problems will be fixed or prevented.