Qantas Airbus 380 emergency reveals social media challenges

Oh boy, this is what we in crisis communication in the age of citizen journalists and instant social media have been talking about. Today (10 Am Singapore time) a Qantas Airbus 380 mega-carrier on its way to Sydney had an explosion in an engine and made an emergency landing back in Singapore. While the plane was in the air, a passenger sitting at a window above the wing shot video with his cellphone clearly showing the increasing damage to the wing. The pilot can be heard explaining what is going on and what they are doing.

Meanwhile, twitter is going nuts with reports from passengers, including photos, being retweeted all over the place about the emergency landing.

So, here we have high drama being played out in real time with citizen journalists reporting. The question is, what is Qantas doing and how are they responding to the instant news?

Good thing: they have a Facebook page and Twitter account preset which they are using for marketing and customer relations.

Bad thing: They got the initial information completely wrong, they did not (and as of this writing) still have not tweeted anything about it. They did get a statement up on their website but I don’t know how long it took to do that. The statement did correct media reports saying the plane had crashed, however Reuters reported that Qantas told CNBC that the plane had crashed.

The other information they got wrong, according to this post on tnooz is that at the same time that Qantas was telling Australian media that no wreckage from the damage plane was found, there were photos showing up on Twitter (yfrog) that showed people on the island of Batam holding up pieces of wreckage with the Qantas logo on it.

The other thing that Qantas did very right was immediately ground all their brand spanking new Airbus 380s. You don’t want to have engines blowing up on brand new airplanes–actually, you don’t want that on really old airplanes either.

What’s the bottom line? Qantas had done so many things right in terms of preparation, but overall would get probably get a C- to F grade in this event for these reasons:

– they didn’t communicate where the most active, relevant communication was happening–Twitter

– they provided at least some incorrect information early on. Even if I give them the benefit of the doubt and say the Reuters got it wrong, which I suspect, they still denied the existence of aircraft damage when the evidence was pretty clear.

What we have been saying here for a long time is: 1) Be fast or be irrelevant. Given the speed and failure to use Twitter to a large degree their communication became significantly less relevant. 2) Don’t lose credibility by inaccurate information.

What they should have done in the obviously hectic first hour or so of this event, is communicated on Twitter and through their website, Facebook, etc., that they are aware of the incident, they can confirm an engine problem and that as soon as they have additional information they can confirm they will publish it. At least they would have been part of the stream.

7 thoughts on “Qantas Airbus 380 emergency reveals social media challenges”

  1. Great blog, Gerald. Think about how fuzzy this story would have been if the aircraft had crashed and there were no passengers alive to Tweet and upload their video and first-hand observations. If that would have happened, then the narrative coming out of Singapore would have been shaped by the conspiracy theorists and the less careful web denizens. The job before Qantas while daunting with present circumstances, would be even more so had there been a different outcome.

  2. I think we have to be careful on gauging a company’s response on these as-they-happen situations. It’s extremely likely that: a) Qantas did not have verifiable information to share at the same pace that the passengers were tweeting/posting, b) what information it did have, it likely was sharing with the officials and ATC in charge of bringing that plane down safely (priority one), c) even if the a and b above are cleared, in this era of potential terrorism…emergency officials may have dissuaded Qantas from sharing any information until things could get confirmed.

    Assuming the most important audiences here are the passengers on the plane….and then the passengers’ loved ones….I think the best course of action is to make darn sure information you have is verifiable before broadcasting. And that releasing that information is done in a way that it does not provide fodder to those with nefarious designs.

    This might be one of those situations where it’s okay to upset the Twittersphere in the interest of doing what is right. It might not. Only the folks at Qantas will know for sure.

    1. JD – I agree. While Twitter is critical; there are so many moving parts in a crisis that need to be considered that pulling a trigger too soon can have dangerous or unintended consequences.

  3. G’day, “they didn’t communicate where the most active, relevant communication was happening–Twitter”

    In what universe does Twitter represent the most relevant communication? This appears at first glance to be a ludicrous and completely unsubstantiated claim. I doubt it is even remotely true in the USA, but it certainly isn’t true globally.

    Those who use Twitter are used to seeing bad information and rumours. To ignore this and to ignore all of the other communication QANTAS did is to ignore a fundamental reality of social media itself – it is multi-channel and an integration of channels, not isolated communication.

    I’d also endorse JD’s comments.

    Cheers, geoff

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