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In case of emergency: Airlines and crisis communication on Twitter

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What airlines should look for on Twitter and what to measure, before, during, and after a crisis

Social media is both a blessing and a curse in a time of crisis. While companies are able to rapidly disseminate information, share updates, and directly interact with the public in real time, misinformation can also spread like crazy on platforms like Twitter.

For something as high stakes as air travel, it’s important for airlines and travel companies to have a plan in place should a crisis arise, particularly during the stressful holiday travel season. We have some advice for creating just such a plan, or reassessing it if you already have one.

Image courtesy NYPL Digital Galleries

What to look for on Twitter during a crisis

First, you need to set up a monitoring plan for Twitter. Exactly what you’re looking for will depend on the nature of the crisis you’re dealing with and your communication goals around each type of crisis.

In case of common crisis

For flight delays and stranded, angry customers, for example, you’ll definitely want to focus on catching every mention of your brand on Twitter and doing everything you possibly can to make affected customers feel listened to and understood. If possible, give your customer service representatives on Twitter the power to offer reconciliations: everything from drink tickets, to discounts on future flights, full or partial refunds; even free tickets for a future flight if the situation is bad enough.

This is vital for turning an angry person who swears they will never fly with you again- whether the circumstances of the situation were under your control or not- and someone who will brag about your customer service on the same forum they just used to share their unhappiness, while remaining a customer.

In case of not-so-common crisis

If the situation is more serious- like the recent shooting that happened at Los Angeles International Airport, or a natural disaster like an earthquake- you don’t have to bother to look for misinformation; it will already be out there. Use Twitter as a way to let everyone know you’re aware of the situation, the safety of your employees and passengers, and any updates you can make on the situation, waiting as long as possible to confirm new information before you send it out while still making any corrections as necessary.

In both cases- and the rest of the time, as a general rule of thumb- you should be monitoring not only direct replies to your brand’s handle on Twitter, but also mentions of your company name in any variety of spelling imaginable, any well-known nicknames your brand has (official or not), and the airports you operate from. Depending on your resources, you might want to include the names of prominent employees, such as founders, board members and c-level executives. Something like our TweetReach Pro Trackers will allow you to do this. (We’ll talk more about what to measure in the next section.)

Go the extra mile

Monitoring mentions of the airports you operate from will be vital should a tragic incident such as the LAX shooting occur again, and the rest of the time it will give you an advantage in listening to and addressing problems you might not have caught otherwise. Is a passenger stranded, and you have room on a flight? Even if they weren’t booked on your airline, you’ve probably just won a new loyal customer. If you make someone’s day, you’ve reversed their story of a bad trip gone awry and be more likely to be the first brand on their mind the next time they travel.

What to measure on Twitter in times of crisis, and after

Now that you know what to look for, you need to have a plan in place for how to measure it. What, exactly, should you be measuring on Twitter as a crisis unfolds?

Before; or what you should have set up right now

Ideally you will already have Trackers set up to capture what we mentioned above- tweets directly to your official handle, mentions of your brand in any variety of spelling imaginable, any well-known nicknames your brand has (official or not), and the airports you operate from. If you’re not already doing that, now is the time to implement Trackers or take frequent snapshots (using something like our aptly named snapshot reports) around those terms once a situation arises and begins to unfold.

During a crisis

Often during a crisis situation, a hashtag will be born organically. If you’re being proactive about communicating via Twitter, however, don’t hesitate to create one of your own and immediately set up a Tracker to measure it, or take continual snapshots of the situation. If another hashtag emerges organically, use that one in your messaging as well and be sure you’re tracking both.

After a crisis

If everything flies by too quickly and you’re a small enough team not to have time to set up Trackers or take frequent enough snapshots of the situation, a historical option to capture the entire incident is available. This can also be used to fill in any noticeable gaps in your data once you’ve begun to look through everything you’ve gathered.

In the aftermath of the event, you might also want to track a specific news story (using specific key words from the title if it’s unique enough not to return a lot of noise, or you can track via a specific URL) that went around if it directly involved comments from your brand, or got a lot of circulation with commentary from people passing it around. This will give you a much more accurate read on the sentiment around your crisis messaging, and let you see any missed opportunities as well as highlight every win.

Go the extra mile

Once you have all of this data and you can clearly see how the situation unfolded and evaluate the strength of your response, take it a step further: What can you plan better next time, with this experience? What did you and your team do really well, that you should be sure to praise and also pass on as protocol to new team members? This knowledge can be distilled and turned into training and on-boarding materials for any new communications employees in the future.

If you’re not an airline a lot of these tactics still apply to you; if you’re a hotel, for example, you can offer to put up stranded travelers or victims of a natural disaster or other tragedy. Car rental companies and car sharing services can work out deals to get stranded people home if they don’t have far to go. Tour companies can even offer to keep stranded passengers entertained with local sites while they’re waiting for delayed travel to get sorted out.

The takeaway

The bottom line is to listen and step in where you’re needed, even if you’re not expected to.

Written by Sarah

November 19th, 2013 at 9:18 am