Oh dear, Qantas Airways, just how bad did things get?
Last week Qantas created a simple campaign intended to get interaction from its followers on Twitter. They asked: "What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury"
The hash tag meant that Qantas could collect responses through Twitter search and award prizes to the best responses. 50 prizes of a pair of First Class pyjamas and a First Class amenity kit with a value of $30 AUD were due to be awarded for the most creative effort.
Unfortunately, the timing of this campaign could have been better. It launched at mid-day on November 22nd, the day after Qantas broke off negotiations with the unions over contracts for its staff. Qantas has had a long running battle with unions and was ‘fighting with its pilots, ground staff and engineers over pay, conditions and outsourcing of jobs overseas'.
Qantas locked out all employees whose contracts were covered by the dispute, all flights were grounded and passengers stranded for 48 hours. Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce hoped to force government intervention in the labour dispute.
Campaign responses flooding in on Twitter at quickly turned from ‘creative' to critical. Tom Reynolds tweeted: "I think #QantasLuxury is flying in a plane where every nut and bolt has been checked and double checked by someone in Australia who cares", and Axel Bruns said: "Planes that arrive intact and on time because they're staffed and maintained by properly paid, Australia-based personnel".
Qantas has been criticised for its social media response in the past, and criticised for its ‘lack (of) empathy' and being ‘mechanical'. It seemed to be slow at responding to its customers and reacting to negative posts. But should Qantas have been more chatty and conversational?
Having a friendly tone and manner does make the brand appear closer to the customers, but it could also seem that the brand is making light of the problem and is being too casual in its dealings with customers. Being over familiar with customers in times of crisis can backfire on the brand.
Minimising the effects of brand jackingBrands can mitigate risks and avoid being ‘brand-jacked' like Qantas were by making sure that they have put an effective communications and crisis plan in place. There are a few parts to consider when putting your plan together:
- Ensure complete transparency with your customers
- Don't try to control the message. Mix official company information and informal conversation when dealing with customers.
- Respond quickly to requests for information as soon as possible and update followers on what is happening. Give out information as soon as it arrives.
- Be aware that the customer controls the message, and that the message can be modified and quickly spiral out of control
- Make sure that the team responsible for talking about the crisis is the same team that is dealing with the crisis. If this isn't possible, make sure that you have great internal lines of communication across the business
- Be prepared to up your Twitter communications during times of crisis. The social media team at Qantas consisted of 4 full time employees to monitor and respond. When the grounding occurred this team increased to 6 employees operating in shifts round the clock.
- Be sensitive about other factors going on at the brand and reconsider the timing of your marketing campaign. It wouldn't have mattered at all if the Qantas Luxury campaign had been delayed by a week or so.
- Improve information flow from the management dealing with the crisis to the social media communication team and make sure that an effective crisis management strategy is in place
- Transparency and honesty would have gone a long way here. Qantas could have quickly apologised for grounding all planes and inconveniencing its customers.
- When something goes wrong locally, it can go global really quickly. Customers can become influenced by actions on social media and move to other brands. Customer loyalty needs to be earned more than once.
I wonder whether the resulting PR furore was really worth the cost of a pair of First Class pyjamas.