A plane crash is not automatically a crisis, says EMA’s Peter Kapcio, but can turn into one if it’s not handled properly.
“A plane crash is not a reputational crisis in and of itself,” he says. “It’s a disaster or emergency, not a crisis. It becomes an organizational crisis only when mismanagement, failure to act preventively or some other wrongdoing enter the picture.”
AirAsia flight QZ8501 is surely lost and prayers for the victims and sympathy for their relatives and friends are due and appropriate.
But it’s also useful, as EMA Managing Partner Greg Loh noted, to examine how the company’s high-profile CEO is using Twitter and the company is using FaceBook as vehicles for their messages and corporate announcements.
The company even changed the color of its logo on those and other sites as a sign of mourning and respect, like putting a black ribbon over a police officer’s badge.
As The Independent reported:
Using the hashtag #PrayForQZ8501, the airline confirmed on Twitter that the plane carrying 162 people lost contact with air traffic controllers at 7:24 a.m. (11:24 p.m. GMT).
A short while later, AirAsia changed the color of its logo across various social media accounts to grey, in an apparent mark of respect for those missing.
Tony Fernandes, the airline’s chief executive and owner of the Premier League football club Queens Park Rangers, adopted the greyed-out logo for his own Twitter profile, where he posted a full statement in response to the incident.
“Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers,” he wrote. “We must stay strong.”
Fernandes has been quick to respond to developing crises on Twitter before, and stirred controversy earlier this year by incorrectly posting that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370– an ongoing aviation mystery – had landed safely.
Most crisis managers suggest staying away from social media in an ongoing crisis or emergency, given the explosive potential for millions of angry responders if something goes wrong. So far, Fernandes’ comments have been respectful and benign, primarily using social media to put out information.
But this also sets a precedent. If the plane is found, the “black boxes” recovered and it turns out the cause was pilot error or negligence on the part of the airline, Fernandes and others will be expected to respond to that as well. But at that point, lawyers will likely prohibit comments and that will compound the outrage.
It’s understandable that an airline suffering a crash would turn to social media. That is increasingly a global messaging and sounding board. Social media moves fast and we don’t always get sign posts indicating how far we’ve come until something like this occurs.
When Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Seoul to San Francisco crashed on approach July 6, 2013, survivors running from the flaming plane posted video within minutes of the crash. They were later useful in determining that one survivor had been run over by a fire truck responding to the crash scene. This sort of information goes into an airline or airport crisis plan when life is routine and how it is applied is not known until the next similar situation.
While there is no link between the AirAsia, Asiana and two Malaysia Airlines crashes in the last 18 months, the way we choose to communicate such tragedies is tightly linked and we’re seeing change happen in real-time.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.