Category Archives: social media

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.

More on personal relationships and social media

Yesterday I commented on the fact that with all the talk about social media, we may be losing the critical importance of the role of high value relationships. Then today this came across through PR Week. David Plouffe, campaign manager for Barack Obama spoke at a conference and noted the importance of personal relationships in a campaign. What’s intriguing about this is that the campaign was noted for its sophisticated use of the media and particularly the internet.


He (Plouffle) noted that it’s impossible – and unwise – to avoid digital avenues, something the Obama team excelled at, to be sure. In fact, he said part of the team’s success was its attempt to be everywhere: online, offline, an hour of local media at every campaign stop, and even sports radio – places where swing voters might be lurking. In other words, seeking out those hidden audiences that will make a difference to success.

It was the technology that “enabled us to move our message in a much more effective and powerful way,” Plouffe said. Yet, it was the campaign’s ability to motivate “surrogates” – volunteers – that talked to their friends and neighbors about Obama’s message that allowed it to truly succeed because no one can be everywhere at once, he noted.

“A human being talking to a human being in person is the most effective communications,” he said to the ballroom full of communicators, who were no doubt Tweeting and e-mailing throughout the conference.

Twitter and crisis communication–some thoughts from Neil Chapman

My friend Neil Chapman and I were having an interesting discussion yesterday about Twitter and its use as a crisis communication tool. I was discussing some concerns about how it works great if you are independent and have full freedom to communicate without approvals, a vetting process, or if you are not part of a joint response such as occurs in a Joint Information Center. I am working on a White Paper on this and will share it with Crisisblogger readers when it is done.

Neil had some interesting perspectives about other problems with using Twitter which he is sharing with us in this post:

What a difference a year makes, even though the new one is just a few days old.

Britney Spear’s Twitter feed was hacked, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  She’s wasn’t alone. About the same time Apple suffered a similar attack, according to the Huffington Post.

For me – and I assume other crisis communicators – Twitter hit our radar screens in a dramatic way during 2008. In terms of eye-witness reporting, the Mumbai attacks saw Twitter come into its own, according to Forbes. And some individual organizations used Twitter to enhance communications during events they responded to, notably the Los Angeles Fire Department (@LAFD) and Public Service of New Hampshire (@psnh). A fascinating development that crisisblogger highlighted along with other developments involving Twitter.

But Apple and Britney have discovered Twitter can bite them.  As a Twitter user I have to do a lot of work – sign up and into my account , ensure I’m following the right people or organization, regularly check the information stream by scrawling through all my tweets to get what I want – then click somewhere else! There’s some push  but a lot of pulling.

Just last week the Twittersphere was abuzz with a nasty phishing attack. Twitter, as a service, seemed to be caught on the back foot with just a tiny word warning posted on home pages very late on, but that disappeared after a couple of days. On more than one occasion I signed in to be told to come back later. There was too much Twittering going on!

The lesson for me isn’t that organizations like LAFD and PSNH adopted Twitter as a channel to enhance their crisis communications and that it’s a best practice we all need to adopt. What they did is demonstrate they have the right philosophy – of timely, targeted information updates during crises.

The channel itself has shown to be insecure and less than perfect – a bit like Britney really ( though I do like her music).

Neil Chapman

More on Social Media and Disaster Response from Dennis McDonald

Here are further thoughts from Dr. Dennis McDonald of Alexandria, VA, on how social media applications for disaster response. He clearly (but gently) identifies the gap in knowledge of those preparing for large scale response at the government level and the actual adoption of social media applications within the general public.

Dr. McDonald is establishing himself as a seminal thinker in this important field of bringing information technology to bear on the challenges of disaster planning, response and public information management.

Social Media and impact on crisis communication

Last week I gave a presentation at the Whatcom Business Conference on social media and how it impacts small businesses. It helped me take a step back and get a little more perspective on how important these changes are for almost anyone in business today. Chuck Wolf, our partner with Media Consultants in Houston, suggested a few weeks ago that we do a white paper on social media and its impact on crisis communication. We agree and are starting to work on that using the survey we did for this conference as a basis.

But what does social media really mean for crisis communicators. Revolution. Nothing less. The internet created the post media world where the domination of those who had the capital invested in mass media began to decline. No longer were millions or billions needed in order to widely distribute information and be influential in forming public opinion.  But web 2.0 or social media took us in a whole new direction. Actually, it took us back to the days where the only form of media was voice. No machines, no electronics, no digits, no electromagnetic waves, nothing. Just one person talking to another or a group of others. What dominated that form was interaction. It wasn’t just one talking to a listener or a small audience, it was discussion, debate, back and forth. And the internet with social media has brought us full circle. But now we combine the machine, the electronics and the digits with the interactivity of highly social settings.

Interactivity is the key to understanding the direction of the future in crisis communication. It is not about the audience any more. In fact, the audience concept seems headed for the dustbin of history. It is about friends. It is about talking directly to one or millions individually and at the same time. You say it can’t be done? I say it must and will be done.

Social media sites as crisis communication sites?

I’ve seen more and more suggestions in the past while about using social media site building tools (such as WordPress, the one I am using here) to build crisis websites. Here’s a new post suggesting using Facebook for that purpose.

Since we more or less pioneered the concept 7 years ago of using highly interactive webtools for crisis communication, I very much welcome the realization of what is needed to be prepared to communicate. And, on a pretty simple level WordPress, Facebook and other website building and managing tools can work pretty darn well. But, for most, not nearly well enough. There is a lot to managing the communication during a major event. It involves a high level of coordination and collaboration, it involves internal review and approvals, it involves not just a website (pull communications) but pushing information out to multiple pre-staged stakeholders groups in multiple modes including telephone and SMS messaging. And it involves a high degree of interactivity. One thing really cool about these sites is they are built on interactivity through the comment function. But using this function during a crisis exposes those coming to the crisis site for information also to the full vitriol, politicized and agenda-driven comments of many of those who come to the site. Either that, or an obvious editing process which undermines the credibility.

By all means, some kinds of companies or organizations with crisis exposure ought to look at these as a low cost partial solution. But for those who are serious, are who operate in larger, more complex organizations, the danger is greater than the reward.

Facebook. An addiction?

As Chip Griffin of CustomScoop points out in his comment, this switch from email to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace is a phenomenon that Shel Holtz has been reporting on for a little while. Well, of course, if it has to do with communication on the web, few are going to take notice before Shel! I feel so out of it. I don’t have a Facebook page. But after reading this post by Michael Arrington about a Goldman Sachs employee who noted on his Facebook page that the nearly half his day he spent on Facebook was more important to him than his job, I’m almost fearful of the addictive powers of these sites.

But then, I’m from the days when I can remember an actual working Linotype machine, type was placed with wax, and if you packed a writing instrument with you, it was a slick portable typewriter. To think that email is quickly slipping into history makes me feel like I am sadly watching the last horse leave on the Pony Express.

Email is soooo yesterday…so what replaces it?

I’m traveling this week and one of my meetings was with the CIO of a large university. Since I am involved in crisis communication technology and one of the key stakeholder groups university leaders need to communicate with in a hurry when things go wrong is students. The system we were discussing pushes out messages via multi-modes: email, fax, text-to-voice telephone and SMS (text messaging). But, the administrator said, the students don’t use email anymore. Now, I haven’t seen the stats on this yet, but he said he hears that students check their email with decreasing frequency. On the other hand, he said the average MySpace or Facebook user checks their page 30 times a day! Again, don’t quote me and I may not have it right, but the trend is probably accurate.

This article from eMarketer.com bears out the fact that young people are spending a tremendous amount of time of the social networking websites. Of course, from my point of view in delivering communication technology solutions, we have to figure out how to reach key audiences the best, fastest, most comprehensive ways. That may very well mean posting urgent or emergency messages to their social network sites. With their permission, of course. It is a strange and changing world.

YouTube, Michael De Kort, and the new whistleblower phenomenon

Wow, talk about getting legs. Yesterday I blogged (based on a lawyer’s blog) about the latest whistleblower strategy using YouTube. Today it is in Time Magazine.

There are so many things to comment about this. This one I can’t avoid. James Bruni made the point that PR folks should be refocusing on mainstream media and admit they can’t control the blogosphere. He’s right about no control, but here is an example of a whistleblower’s probably unwarranted complaints suddenly making big time news via the MSM. And it came about through the new social media of the video site YouTube, plus probably the blog discussion. You simply can’t draw lines like that, Mr. Bruni. It is all important, and the blogworld and social media world is getting every more important.

Note what the Lockheed spokesperson says about not trusting what people put on YouTube. And then the comment from the reporter–“‘Anybody with a webcam and something to say, regardless of whether it’s true or not, can say it on YouTube,'” complained a Lockheed spokeswoman. This is, of course, the same charge leveled against bloggers and other amateur newsgatherers; and one could argue that is precisely the point.”

Crisis communicators–ever more vigilance is needed. You need eyes on all sides of your heads and not up your backside. What is said in one presumably obscure corner of the vast global conversation can find its way into Time and the front page of newspapers in mere moments. Is this an instant news world?