Engage or enrage at your peril

“BA in Blunderland” was just one of the damning headlines that swept the world on 27 May as one of the world’s most recognisable airlines suffered a systems wide failure that disrupted the travel plans of 75,000 passengers.

Sidestepping the causes of the failure itself, as accidents do happen, it’s actually what BA did next, or didn’t do next, that enraged customers, the media and stakeholders.

To put it simply what they didn’t do was engage. After an hour and thousands of customers tweets questioning what the problem was, BA’s Chief Executive Alex Cruz posted a short video on the company’s website and Twitter account with a brief explanation and a promise that there would be further updates. But it was nearly a full day before the next Tweet and Cruz’s next video.

If you’re going to use social media effectively you have to embrace its immediacy; a simple tweet and statement on the website at the very beginning with the basic facts and repercussions of the system failure would have temporarily placated customers and media, everyone accepts to some point that crises happen.

Post video, the failure to continue to update and advise allowed others to fill the narrative, angry customers and unions with tales of cost cutting and IT outsourcing.

The “Social Media Fail” was one thing, but the complete failure to engage the media was an absolute shocker. It took three days before Cruz fronted a news camera with reports abounding that he had earlier refused interviews, by this stage he was facing a very combative minded media. Why was it such a shocker?

BA had effectively driven the media towards disgruntled customers and the unions by not engaging. If there’s a big story afoot the media will get content no matter how and if it’s not coming from you they’ll get it from elsewhere.

Despite the growth of social media, it’s the respected media outlets that many people turn to when they want the facts about what’s happening in uncertain times.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is the fact that by locking out the mainstream media BA created an antagonistic atmosphere by frustrating and alienating those whose job is to report what’s going on. It’s never a good idea to make more enemies when the chips are down!

Now engagement doesn’t mean hundreds of one on one interviews but continually updated media releases with regular press conferences. This is certainly something that a corporate giant like BA should be able to achieve but failed to deliver.

The ongoing importance of these basics, media release and interviews, is borne out in the recently released 2016 APAC Journalist Survey of reporters, news editors and editors-in-chief. The report found that official press releases remain the most trusted source of news followed closely by a corporate spokesperson.

Of the respondents, only 10% listed a company’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts as a trusted source with one Asian Editor stating social media “is still far too chaotic to be a reliable source of news.”

If there’s a lesson to be learnt here it’s that engagement has to be on multiple levels. Social media engagement is important but it shouldn’t be at the expense of mainstream media and it doesn’t matter which media you favour – you have to constantly update and inform.

As for British Airways, it will no doubt endure, but when I booked flights to Singapore last week for my parents and BA was one of three airlines in the reckoning, I struck them from my list.

They don’t really seem to be on top of things at the moment – so why risk it?

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