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Flying Low – Social Media Mishaps

A social media mishap can be harmful for any brand. At HROC, we’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to airlines recently, with more than a few occasions where some of the biggest brands have got social media all wrong. Here are just four that we’ve spotted:

Qantas Airways

When Qantas Airways decided to do a competition on Twitter where the entrants had to use ‘#Qantasluxury’ and mention what to them typified ‘Qantas Luxury’ to win prizes, Qantas didn’t realise that they were staking a claim for worst timing of the year award!

That’s because at the time of launch, they had thousands of stranded passengers from cancelled flights, checking the feed for updates regarding the service. Within minutes of the hashtag going live there were thousands of responses to the tweet complaining about the services Qantas provide.

The furor was such that the company ended up winning the prestigious Top Gaffe 2011 award from a top social network tracking site and spawned a hilarious parody video of how people behind the scenes may have tried to calm the storm.

Lets hope the company’s next twitter endeavor is a little better thought out and timed!

United Airlines

When musician Dave Carroll’s $3,500 guitar was destroyed in transit he was more than a little annoyed. But following a year fighting with United Airlines to get compensation for his guitar, and continually being ignored by United Airlines, his annoyance became good for only one thing… music!

So, like many musicians he used the experience for inspiration and created a series of videos called “United Breaks Guitars” where he told the story of his treatment using a little humour. The videos went viral and, within days, thousands were tweeting and posting about the airline and its lack of accountability.

Finally, despite the best efforts of United to ignore the situation and not reply to any of the social media mentions (showing a complete lack of social media understanding), United was forced to concede its error and, having little other choice, apologised by donating $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Jazz institute at Carroll’s request.

Whilst Carroll never did get the money back for his guitar, the 12m views on YouTube of just one of the videos, not to mention the subsequent book deal, didn’t do his career much harm – shame the same can’t be said for United’s reputation!


Ryanair is an airline that is not unused to hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons. But when they decided to insult one blogger and then the entire blogosphere in 2009, they showed themselves to have poor social media savvy.

It all started with a seemingly innocuous comment on a technical issue that Dublin based web developer Jason Roe published on his blog. Roe stated he had found a problem with Ryanair’s website which meant that when booking a flight the price went to zero (although Roe admitted that he could not actually book said flight). He posted about the glitch on his blog and put it on Twitter also. Cue the comments!

Within hours of the post going live Roe had received a number of offensive responses including one calling him an ‘idiot’ for trying to book the free flight, while another mocked his ‘pathetic life’.

Let’s get one thing clear – negative comments are a risk people take with twitter, blogs and social media in general and are part and parcel of the community. The problem is these weren’t your average anonymous users. When Roe traced the IP addresses they came from Ryanair’s head offices… doh!

Subsequently the company issued the following statement from spokesman Stephen McNamara:

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

Not only does this show how out of touch Ryanair is with social media and PR but customer engagement in general. All they had to do in the first instance was issue a response saying ‘thank you for bringing this to our attention and we are looking into the matter’ or a comment of the same ilk.

Instead, their willingness to support employees who abuse customers and then blatantly attempt to rubbish a prominent form of social media, which millions use to influence others, will do their brand reputation no good in the long run.

Southwest Airlines

It probably wasn’t the wisest of ideas when Southwest Airlines decided to throw media personality Kevin Smith off one of their planes for being ‘too wide.’

Kevin Smith reached out to his 1.65 million followers on twitter and tweeted “Wanna tell me I’m too wide for the sky? Totally cool, but fair warning folks: If you look like me, you may be ejected from Southwest Airlines.”

Once this had been announced on twitter, Mr Smith continued to write a blog post and a podcast on the matter. By the time Southwest Airlines made their apology on Twitter and on the blog post, Mr Smith’s substantial followers had already come to their own conclusions on the airline.

From now on we’re sure Southwest will ensure to check how many followers a passenger has before making the decision to eject them from an airplane!

All four of these examples show how a simple social media fail can have a long lasting and detrimental effect on brand reputation. With the airline industry struggling during the recession, surely it’s more important than ever to use social media well and get ahead of the competition.

To talk to us about our social media offering and how we can help you end up on an epic fail highlight reel on YouTube call 0121 454 9707.