The unfortunate happenings of a Twitter campaign by Qantas is making the rounds through the blogosphere, Twitter and traditional media as we speak. Qantas was running a hashtag based giveaway promotion during a time where passengers were stranded around the world because of a strike, leading to massive complaints on Twitter instead.
The timing of the promotion was poor, and so was the way Qantas dealt with the underlaying customer service issues. But the reality of of social media is that this situation can happen to anybody. Qantas could have seen this one coming but it’s not always this obvious (ask Nestle, United Airlines or Seaworld).
Calling for a boycot of tourism in a destination is a well known tactic for activist organizations who take issue with something controversial that happens there. Social media is the perfect vehicle to get this message across and organize a stunt with the purpose of attracting main stream media. There are also incidents such as riots, diseases or natural disasters that can seriously affect a destinations image through the stories floating around in social media.
Anybody active in social media needs a crisis communications plan where issues are detected early and responded to in a timely and appropriate matter. We’ve worked on a few of these and the biggest challenge organizations face is that traditional PR methods don’t apply in this situation. It requires a new and unique approach.
When you do it right, you can turn a crisis in a moment of glory as the Red Cross did with a rogue tweet. Qantas should come clean in a transparent way, fix the root customer service issue and offer the prize for their competition to every stranded passenger who has tweeted a complaint.
Everybody else, get a plan ready.