What companies can learn about crisis PR from the United Airlines leggings incident

On Sunday morning, a United Airlines gate attendant barred two teenage girls from boarding a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings. News of the leggings incident went viral, and within hours, United Airlines had a PR crisis on its hands.

The incident started when Shannon Watts, political activist and founder of Moms Demand Action, overheard the exchange and tweeted about the incident to her followers.

 

 

The airline responded to the public backlash with its own tweets to explain the incident.   

 

 

The company also issued a release explaining customers are welcome to wear leggings on its flights. The release explains that United views employee pass riders as representatives of the company and expects them to be appropriately dressed for flights.

 

 

Though United responded quickly to the crisis, customers, activists and even celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and Patricia Arquette have expressed anger about the incident.

Jonathan Guerin, a United spokesperson, said himself the airline should have done a better job of responding to the situation. According to Reuters, Guerin said, “We’ll definitely take something away from today, but we’ll continue to engage with our customers (on social media).”

So what can other companies take away from this viral situation when facing their own crisis?

First, never underestimate the power of social media. Incidents today don’t stay contained, and with Facebook and Twitter, angry customers have an easy—and potentially viral—outlet.

Second, be sincere. Many considered United’s response to the issue stilted or unsympathetic. As per the Reuters article, Guerin said the company could have been more clear in its initial response to the issue.

Finally, have a plan for your social media outlets. United did a great job of responding to a potential issue quickly and telling its side of the story, but because the initial response was bungled, it backfired. Know what kinds of feedback you need to respond to, what you’ll say, and in what format you will respond.

After all, the best way to handle a crisis is to prepare for it before you’re facing it. If you need help crafting your plan, give us a call. At Wellons Communications, we have experience in social media and in handling crisis situations, and we can help you put your best foot forward. Give us a call today at 407-339-0879.

“There is a permanent record today and it is called the Internet”

Privacy is a commodity. In today’s world dominated by the Internet, anything and everything can be posted instantaneously and shared with millions in mere seconds. David from “David After Dentist” would agree. However, privacy concerns are no laughing matter. Vigilance should be taken to ensure that the next breaking news scandal that hits the front page of Yahoo does not revolve around you, which is why we’re shaking our heads at Mitt Romney this week.

After secretly recorded comments from a private Boca Raton fundraiser leaked of Mitt Romney saying that 47% of Americans are victims dependent on the government, we can’t help but wonder why the aspiring President would vocally disparage almost half of his country. Here’s a tip for you Mitt Romney: if you are running for President, everything you say and do WILL be held against you in the court of public opinion, thanks to the Internet. The video was leaked to the press, and now everyone from Jon Stewart to Diane Sawyer is spreading the remarks to their audiences; meanwhile the Mitt Romney campaign has spun its gears to full-on damage control.

Another unfortunate recent example of the royal lack of privacy today comes from an Italian magazine publishing topless photos of Kate Middleton. The Duchess of Cambridge was simply enjoying a sunbathing session on a secluded French chateau getaway when a paparazzi photographer captured the scene. Now, the British royal family is taking the matter to court with hopes to stop further publications from printing the photos, but you can’t take back what has already been done. Amazing what a zoom lens and internet connection can do to the public image of a Princess.

Even the common person is not immune to the repercussions of online activity. Everything that you post, from Facebook cover photos to the latest Tweet about what you had for dinner, becomes fair game when you click “publish.” Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and lawyer for high-profile defendants, says that young people nowadays don’t seem to value privacy. “They put stuff on Facebook that 15 years from now will prevent them from getting the jobs they want,” he said. “They don’t understand that they are mortgaging their future for a quick laugh from a friend.”

And that’s nothing to laugh about.

Social media a part of FCAT’s Path to Success to better communication

In light of public outrage from FCAT scores drastically plunging this year, the Florida Department of Education launched two websites Monday as part of its campaign to communicate with parents. One website, floridapathtosuccess.org, provides them with information about the department’s goal of transitioning to tougher standards, while the other, parents.fldoe.org/home, serves as an outlet for them to ask questions and express concerns on a discussion board. In less than 24 hours of its debut, three topics were posed by parents on the discussion forum, with a FLDOE representative already replying to two of them.

This response by the Florida Department of Education showcases how the organization is taking steps to communicate better with its core audience and increase transparency in the communication process. At a time when many parents are up in arms about recent headlines, creating these channels to interact directly with parents is a smart move on FLDOE’s part to take control of the situation. Instead of letting all the worry and frustration from parents fester, the department is tackling this challenge head on and trying to remedy the situation by supplying an appropriate space for them to vent and get answers to their questions from an authorized source – a commendable effort by the FLDOE and certainly a good public relations example of using online resources to foster two-way communication.

Crisis Communications: preparing to deal with Swine Flu

We’ve all heard the swine flu warnings, but what have you done to prepare your business to deal with a possible outbreak of swine flu? Do you have a public relations plan in place? Take this simple quiz to measure your readiness. Are you:

A. Crossing your fingers and hoping that you won’t be affected?
B. Buying some of these anti-swine flu suits from Japan? (looks great, kills germs!)
C. Coming up with a comprehensive plan to deal with a worst-case scenario?

We developed a comprehensive public relations and employee relations plan for a client who wants to be ready. Their crisis communications plan includes:

• Paying for flu shots for their employees
• Educating employees on symptoms to look for
• Implementing CDC guidelines on dealing with sick employees
• Coordinating an operating plan in case of a major outbreak
• Preparing to deal with media inquiries

So far the impacts of swine flu have been isolated, but major outbreaks are a real possibility.

What will you do if one of your employees is diagnosed with swine flu? If you don’t deal with the public, your only responsibility is to your employees. Will you tell them “Bob’s under the weather,” or will you be up front and tell your employees what they need to know? Do you have a business continuity plan in place? Are you ready to stagger shifts or allow people to work from home?

If you deal with the public, you have another set of concerns. Do you let them know that some of your employees have swine flu? Do you close for a few days for disinfecting? Sure, you’ll lose some revenue, but you have to weigh that against the implications of infecting some of your customers?

What will you tell the media? There’s the phone call you dread. Or worse – the TV station live truck parks out front at 4:30 pm.

There’s no one-plan-fits-for-everyone solution. What everyone has in common is that they need a plan in place – before it’s too late.

Besides, those Japanese suits cost $650 and they don’t even make them for women.