Top 3 Brand Reputation Management Lessons Courtesy of United Airlines
It was the shriek heard around the world.
The seemingly mild-mannered Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from United Airlines flight #3411 earlier this week. It was a move that caused United Airlines’ stock to lose $800 million in value on Tuesday, and the company to suffer nearly a full week of severe reputational hemorrhaging.
If you’re like me, you’ve seen, heard and read enough about this sad incident, so I will spare you from any recap. Instead, let’s take a quick look at several lessons from United’s experience that brands should take note of in this digital age of reputation management:
1) Nothing Stays in Vegas anymore.
If no news is good news, then bad news will travel globally and fast. As humans, we are wired to share stories. And with social media, any crisis can go viral in a matter of seconds. So if something happens, understand that the likelihood is great that someone will have pulled out their phone and recorded it. Brands should adapt their social media policies and practices to accommodate this fact — and this means being proactive on social media when something does go wrong.
2) Forget the lawyers and put people first.
Most crisis teams include attorneys. Rightly so, but there are situations, like in the case of United, where their counsel to refrain from admitting anything is less than useful. Just re-read United CEO Oscar Munoz’s first statement on Monday. His corporate double-speak – “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers” – failed to address the most important part of his apology, which is acknowledging the violent behavior that led to Dr. Dao’s suffering.
It only goes to prove that empathy and sympathy go a long way, and even saying sorry can quickly defuse a crisis-in-the-making. Why? A heartfelt apology can reduce anger and importantly, provide your customers with the feeling that they are being heard.
3) Be Consistent.
If you recall, Mr. Munoz’s first statement was from a leaked internal email intended only for United staff. While it reassured employees, it did little to provide any comfort to an already outraged public. In the minds of United, they wrongly thought they could communicate different messages to different audiences. They forgot a simple truth: in our new world order, everyone is listening during a crisis. You have to assume that what you say internally will eventually become part of the public conversation. So please be consistent in your messaging.
Nothing stays in Vegas anymore, and that has put brands under intense public scrutiny. To avoid United’s reputational fate, own the issue by being proactive (especially on social media), putting people first and ensuring consistency in your messaging. This will enable you to bring any crisis to a resolution in the way you want it to be managed or resolved.