Five lessons in crises handling from the Facebook war between Ryanair and SAS Scandinavian Airlines

I often get asked by senior airline executives and readers of this blog, “How can we deal with real-world PR crises using social media?” Well, the recent war of words Facebook and Twitter posts between RyanAir and SAS Scandinavian Airlines offers a number of lessons in the matter.

For the unaware, here’s a a gist of what happened. Just a few weeks ago, Ryanair said it would offer SAS executives and board members “free tickets on any of Ryanair’s 100 Nordic routes”, then surprisingly rescinded the offer. Nevertheless, SAS’ Director of Communication and EVP, Claus Sonberg, made his first flight with Ryanair from Oslo to London, which could be followed via both Facebook and Twitter.

What was meant to be just an update about the flight experience turned out to be an online “shouting match” with Claus pointing out how RyanAir was more expensive and a “Fletcher Reede” constantly brought out RyanAir’s perspectives. So now, what are some lessons airlines can take away from this?

SAS facebook

1. Integrate new media and old media

Something I feel SAS did quite well in this matter was to make good use of both old and new media. There were press releases, interviews in newspapers, even as the action took place on Twitter and Facebook. No segment of the audience was left out.

Many of the times, organizations get too excited about new mediums like Twitter and Facebook, and end up isolating the traditional mediums – which might have a greater in some market segments. The best way is to learn from example – like how Ford’s Scott Monty does Social Media Press Releases.

2. Don’t just talk. Listen, then respond

Crises handling changes drastically in social media, as compared to traditional media. For the simple reason that people an airlines is communicating with can actually respond, in real-time too. Which means that they will ignore anything that’s not relevant to their concerns, at that very moment. So then, how can an airline conquer this situation?

Monitoring Twitter, Facebook and even blog mentions, in addition to press releases is a must. Such monitoring would bring up the current issues people are talking about. Then the airline should try to address these in their responses. So for example in SAS’ case, none of the posts on Twitter were “@” replies addressing people’s concerns. They were merely 140char versions of press-releases: one-way announcements. Not something that can sustain interest.

3. Add insight from analytics for targeted responses

You must be thinking that it’s not possible to respond to every single person who replies on Twitter or leaves a comment on Facebook. That’s absolutely right. This is when the airline needs to use basic analytic tools for observing trends and addressing concerns shared by a number of people.

For example, on Twitter, there are a number of valuable analytic tools that help bring out trends.  One such tool is the Twitter StreamGraph, which shows you the latest things people are talking about a particular brand, SAS in this case. And as you see in the screenshot below, lots of people have been confusing SAS’ tweets as promotion of RyanAir’s in-flight product. That’s certainly something that needed addressing.

Twitter Stream SAS

4. Give power to the listener

The one obvious-yet-often-ignored rule of interactions on social media is that brands must involve the people they’re talking to in the conversations. In SAS’ interactions on Facebook and Twitter, that wasn’t the case very often.

Posts on social media by the brands should aim to instigate discussion among the fans or followers. The brand should act as a facilitator of discussion, as opposed to initiating every discussion. Brands need to listen more than talk. Once the people feel they’re being heard, their affinity increases towards a brand. Mind you, concrete action is seldom needed, but listening is key.

5. Don’t just let the traditional PR team handle it

This is probably the toughest to achieve in these five steps. Traditional PR and corporate communications teams are good with old media, but not necessarily new media. If a crises is being handled on social media, then it’s essential that the team is complemented with someone who’s a practitioner of social media. The key word there is practitioner – because if the person(s) hasn’t personally been active on social media, it might actually be detrimental to the brand.

The best option for airline that do not yet have a social media department is to let the Corp. Comms. team lead crises handling, but complement it with at least one or two people who know social media deep within. IF there are none, then hire a consultant. But I’d advise against doing it in-house, and without much prior experience.

Coming back to SAS, I think they did a decent job at managing the process on social media. However, there’s certainly scope for improvement.

What do you think? Did SAS do a good job? If you were in their shoes, how would you have done it differently? Let’s discuss in the comments or over on Twitter (@simpliflying)

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