How Qantas ignored the social media warning signals

IAlicia Kennedy Meltwatern this guest post Alicia Kennedy of online monitoring service Meltwater argues that Qantas failed to understand customer sentiment before launching its disastrous Twitter contest to win pyjamas.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen the latest social media debacle erupt over #QantasLuxury.

What started out as an act of goodwill to improve weeks of negative publicity, very quickly went south when thousands of people hijacked the hashtag to fire relentless comments about the recent Qantas grounding.

Just two hours after the competition was launched, #QantasLuxury reached ‘breaking trend’ status in Australia and was averaging approximately 130 tweets per 10 minutes.  Overnight, there were over 14,700 social media mentions not just in Australia but in the US and UK too.  

The big question, of course, is could Qantas have prevented this Twitter storm from erupting?

Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes and advertising consultant Jane Caro discuss the debacle on today’s Sunrise:

To many, the answer seems blatantly obvious.  Twitter’s appeal is in the ability to give the public a platform to vent their spleen.

If you take someone off the street and ask them what they use Twitter for, chances are they’ll say it’s to follow Ashton Kutcher’s latest crazy antics or complain about the lack of public transport during peak hour.   We take a certain level of comfort in being able to express our opinion in real time and find a level of pride if others in the Twittersphere express their agreement.

More importantly, many see Twitter as that little keyhole by which they use to catch a brief glimpse of the human face of the brand that’s usually behind closed doors.

It’s the only instance where users can get the inkling that in fact, a real person is behind those company messages and people jump on the opportunity to offer their real opinion to that one accessible individual with no holds barred.

Before launching a publicity campaign on social media, Qantas – and brands in general – need to first check the temperature of online chatter.

Had the thousands of people who were inconvenienced by the recent lock out moved past the issue?  Were the public ready to talk about the positives of the company yet again?

Judging from a social media analysis using our tools, the answer is a resounding no.   In the three days after Qantas grounding, the brand received over 37,000 negative social media mentions and that alone should have sent warning signals to Qantas’ social media team.

Conversing with customers openly on social media, whether in good or dire circumstances, is crucial.  In fact, we encourage brands to get in there and have an honest dialogue with people who are venting publically.  But it’s important to do so, in an informed environment.

A permanent finger on the pulse is what’s necessary to maintain the level of awareness necessary to give customers what they need. It’s not just volume that’s key here – measuring sentiment is crucial to heading off issues as they arise.
Continuing with standard social media outreach without acknowledging those frustrations or connecting with their customer base in a more authentic way – ignoring the financial, emotional and logistical toll the lock out took on its stakeholders was a true recipe for disaster.

Although the majority of responses on Twitter were not constructive, the sentiments expressed in these were certainly a wake-up call for Qantas.

I know I’m preaching to the converted here but #QantasLuxury is yet another example of how companies can underestimate the power of social media tools like Twitter to mobilise thousands of people in a matter of minutes and hours.

Brands like Qantas, particularly those who have been operating in a challenging communications landscape, need to have the proper tools in place so they can quickly do some damage control when a crisis unfolds on social media.

  • Alicia Kennedy, is area director of Meltwater ANZ

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