How NOT to handle a Social Media crisis: A case study of Silverstone Air

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Every dog has its day or so they saying goes and so every organization small big, private or public, commercial or non-profit will have a crisis at some point. It’s always unforeseen, unfortunate but you always need to be prepared for when that happens. In this era of social media and sharing online, a small incident can escalate and go out of proportion if there exists a vacuum.Silverstone Airlines had a runway excursion at Wilson Airport last week which was promptly acknowledged and communication done via their social media channels. Aviation is a complex world, and full of jargon for the layman and when incidents or accidents happen, there’s a need to reassure customers from all walks of life and communicate to other stakeholders.

STANDARD OPERATING PROCESS

There is a document called an Emergency Response Plan followed which every operator has it and approved by KCAA. In there is a well detailed plan including the interaction of other multibody agencies during such incidences and accidents. After an unfortunate occurrence, the insurer is notified to engage its preferred rescue bodies to support the operation and control the element of damages emanating from the event. After an incident, all victims now become a subject of insurance company from the medical bills and legal battles are taken over on behalf to of the airline as well.

WHAT TO DO

As a traveller

1. As a traveller, always leave an emergency line and notify someone about your flight itinerary.2. As a travel agent or tour operator, follow up on your passengers as this is a standard operating procedure even for guys managing vehicles or a fleet. As a travel agent or tour operator you need to have all the information first before passing it to your client’s relatives or next of kin if there are fatalities. It is advisable to share official updates from the airline for consistency and liaise with the airline legal team at the crisis command centre.3. The airline will keep updating through regular media releases, press briefings and their official channels of communication or via a crisis management centre that should be set up immediately.4. The crisis management centre will manage all questions and queries officially. Due to volume, most social media executives will not reply to each and every query but will keep regular updates. If you’re seeking information, it is advisable to go to the crisis management centre or call emergency lines provided by the airline.5. So what about social media? You will likely not get any social media feedback on specific matters because anything can pop up for legal action against the airline among other reasons.

As an operator

The above may vary with the nature of flight and people involved but it’s the standard operating procedure.1. Command and control operations2 Humanitarian assistance4. Emergency call centre5. GO TEAMS operations6. Destination airport issues7. Crisis support units’ operations9. Crisis communication

CRISIS COMMUNICATION

A good landing is one you walk away from and for this particular incident, there were no fatalities, however, there will be rumours, allegations, opinions and images circulating. What do you do here?Silverstone Air might have had all that in place to number 8 but they are failing at the most important phase – why did it happen and what’s the way forward to ensure that doesn’t happen again. The focus of this article is to share some learnings and thoughts on crisis communication on social media.Social media handlers (whether internal or outsourced to an agency) will be overwhelmed and it’s often beyond their daily scope so do train them to handle such unusual scenarios. Beyond victims and their immediate families, others will engage on social media pages directly to reach the company for or on behalf of people- like their potential customers, families of those affected, booked clients seeking more information or cancellations and for other valid reasons. Sift through.

TRANSPARENCY AND COMPLIANCE

Consumers today expect much more from brands. When the diners had issues around what goes behind in the meal preparation, restauranteurs took it upon to design open kitchens and sometimes live cooking in the open. There have been questions about the safety, age of fleet (or maintenance, potholes on the runway at Wilson Airport among other concerns. A crisis and customer complaints give you a chance to talk about what you have put in place and educate the public about your operations. It’s an opportunity for the regulator to as well show the public what they have in place to mitigate such incidents.

ENGAGE BEYOND SALES AND CSR

Silverstone Air was prompt to inform and keep the public updated on the incident but they’ve not addressed the lingering safety concerns raised and their operations. It’s common practice to only engage when selling at expos, online, have news to share or transacting – bookings, rescheduling, cancellation not when there are other questions or concerns. Or at the end of year booker’s cocktail or annual CSR activity but businesses all over sudden cannot be reached when you have complaints.There’s true customer apprehension and fear around flying Silverstone so please put in place channels or forums in place where these things can be addressed before they escalate on social media. We can forget bad food served onboard, delays and rescheduling but safety is a matter of life and death.

USE OF INFLUENCERS

If there are issues or concerns about your product or service, you need to address those before you plug influencers to promote your business. If one person has had a good experience, the one sharing a negative one or raising concerns is not a hater or bully, however there are brand trolls. We’ve had case of a sanitary towels brand taking influencers on a getaway to address quality concerns, or a ride hailing app with assault cases reported by women and rowdy drivers using female influencers to sanitize the brand by ride discounts and giveaways. There’s the expectation that influencers are supposed to translate or articulate whatever is on the brief and present it in a polished way to their audiences for purposes of the campaign. Please spend a bit of time on brand immersion, briefing and training those people who will represent your brand online especially after an incident or accident. You can engage key opinion leaders to reassure different publics but while using influencers is a tactical approach as a business you need to have a broader communication strategy and a crisis communication plan. Silence is a terrible way to handle a crisis and lack of communication leaves vacuum for people to push whatever narrative or version of events they have on social media. Most important, fix it and word will go around. How hard is that?

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