Quick reputation management has always been important for companies, but social media has dramatically sped up expectations.

Currently, some of the most known examples of threatened reputations are aimed at airlines where consumers are regularly posting to Twitter when unhappy about their service. Whether it be getting kicked out of their seat, not enough leg room, or their flight getting canceled; posting to social media is a major threat to the reputation of airlines—and ultimately to any company.

So how should a company respond when they’re receiving a tirade of nasty tweets from a disgruntled customer? Remember, whatever is posted online moves quickly and has the potential to last forever… So it’s important to handle these situations with grace, and good timing.

Here are four tips that will help a company manage its reputation.

  1. Pre-plan for different possible issues. Whether it be a reporter calling or something posted on your social media channels, have a crisis communications plan already in place so you can respond quickly.

Airlines must have lists of their most common complaints, and they also know which scenarios could be most damaging to them.  All they need to do if look at examples mishandled by their competitors if necessary.  Damaged instruments or sports equipment, lost wedding dresses, missed funerals, all these scenarios are easy to imagine occurring.  So instead of waiting to decide what to say during a crisis, pre-plan your responses.

  1. Acknowledge the issue quickly. Please note, acknowledgement doesn’t mean resolve the issue or give a full response.  If your company is still figuring out how to handle the situation, at least acknowledge that you’ve seen the tweet and you’re working to solve the issue.

Here’s an example. Just a few weeks ago, Ann Coulter made waves by tweeting that it took 28 hours for Delta to give her an explanation as to why she got kicked out of her seat. A tweet can go viral within hours – which means everyone who is following the situation is eagerly awaiting an explanation as well.  It’s no different than a forest fire- you wouldn’t purposely let it burn for hours before trying to put it out.  Imagine how quickly that fire would spread. An acknowledgement that you’re investigating the issue and will respond as quickly as possible won’t put out the fire, but helps contain it. It’s the waiting for acknowledgement and wondering if a company even knows of the complaint that often bothers people more than the time it takes to get a full response.

  1. Take the gas out of the bandwagon. It’s easy for people when they hear a negative story to then share their own negative experience. Stop this before it occurs.

The bandwagon effect occurs more quickly and regularly when it seems a company doesn’t care about a complaint.  Acknowledging an issue, then sharing publicly the resolution to that issue shows that a company listened and responded.  It doesn’t matter if everyone is happy with the resolution or result, but responding with respect and empathy goes a long way towards ending a stream of add-on negative impressions.

  1. Build up a good will bank so potential customers are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

One of the main reasons Ann Coulter’s (or any angry passenger’s) tweets take off is because the public has gotten used to hearing about negative issues with airlines. Her incident wasn’t long after a United Airlines passenger got dragged off the airplane, or after a couple heading to their wedding claimed United kicked them off too. Both of these situations triggered social media onslaughts that hurt the company’s reputation.

What you don’t hear enough are all the good things these airlines are doing.  Yes, good news can go viral too—just look at the viral story of a stewardess saving a child from human trafficking, or how fallen soldiers are often respected on flights as a casket is being transported.  The trick is that negative news travels faster and wider than good news.  So it’s essential to build up lots of good will and positive stories to drown out any future negative story.

Conclusion:

Is the customer service with airlines progressively getting worse? Are people just more inclined to post about it now that they’ve seen their peers, celebrities, and political pundits do so? Who knows.  Either way it’s up to your company to build a good reputation before something negative is said, but also to manage and protect your reputation once that negative impression occurs.  Whether it be through a reporter’s news story, or a social media post.

By Sierra Oshrin, 10 to 1 Public Relations

Leave a Comment: