Delta Outage: Failed PR Crisis Communication

August 08, 2016

One of the oldest phrases, mostly overused by scaremongering teachers during exam seasons, "fail to prepare, prepare to fail". Did delta's PR team forget the cruciality of forming a PR crisis strategy?

When customers are in doubt, when people are left with questions unanswered, a quick response time is fundamental to maintaining control over the situation and ultimately, future brand image. With the internet literally at our fingertips and wifi readily available to access all the information spouted on social media, word spreads like wildfire. Tweets have become bait for hungry journalists to reel in a new story, and catch their supper. This is very good news for us individually, as we are able to receive world wide news reports faster than ever, with opinions and eye witness reports allowing us to see a bigger picture, past all the mass media. But what does this mean from a business point of view?

In short, vulnerability to publicity.

Some of the best companies to date have suffered a blow of bad publicity. So what differentiates the brands who have successfully maintained their identity and those which have ended up going down the pan?

Businesses which remain strong and fruitful following a publicity storm know the importance of transparency of information. Customers want to feel valued, they want to be sure there is no retention of facts, if facts are retained and people become aware of the reservation, trust crumbles, hostility rises and credibility is tarnished. Responding to questions that demand answers is essential, lack of response can result in a snowball-press effect, if you don't come to conclusions and find solutions, people will search for their own. Think of this if you will, as the type of mentality a conspiracy theorist may deploy. Latching onto social media, if questions are not answered, people will assume to worst (my, we love a good news story to natter about). This is in stark contrast to the benefits of social media mentioned, if there's a story, chances are someone will try to run with it and rumours will evolve. The probability of this occurring is only lessened when companies have a plan.

PR crisis strategies don't stop here however, ensuring customers and employees feel secure and safe is vital. There's a reason it's called a crisis right? No one expects it and it's difficult to handle, but knowing what to prioritise is essential to the future of a company. Keeping people safe highlights your concern and empathy, allowing for a humanising of the situation. Individuals need to be reminded that you are doing everything you can to find explanations and alleviate any doubt they may be experiencing.

Delta, human understanding is an integral part of successful PR crisis strategy. As I sit on the floor, five hours after my expected boarding time at Narita Airport, Tokyo, I am still yet to receive any useful information. I have twitter and I have internet. Whilst it's true, as a fan of social media, I do like to exhaust the benefits of it's place in the world, it remains no replacement for human interaction as a means of comfort.

Twitter accounts write updates, a response rate far quicker than the air-attendents on ground and in my immediate vicinity. Delta writes they are sorry for the delays, they mention the situation and put it into greater perceptive, making reference to all flights being grounded, people worldwide stuck in the same position, delta realises through its 'you're not the only one experiencing this' message, that individuals become somewhat calmer. Through this group mentality there is reassurance that so many people in the same position makes us all feel less alone in the situation at hand.

'I have twitter, I have internet', I write earlier. However, what about the other hundreds of people stuck at gates 28A to 28G right now? Not to mention the many thousands more across the globe in similar positions, do they have just as much access? Oldies with no desire for a smart phone, young girls who have exhausted their phone batteries, what information do they rely on? A vague message from the tannoy, every twenty minutes the same thing, "we have no information as of yet, we don't know anything".

Whilst social media handles dedicate time to answer questions, this ceases to be the case in airports. Communication, of the human kind, like messages straight from flight attendants is essential for individuals who do not have internet access, to be aware of the current happenings, so far we have had none.

Briefly put, public relations crisis strategies consist of more than a few messages of apology to twitter users mentioning you. It's about highlighting understanding, compassion and information accessible to everyone. I am fortunate enough to be somewhat internet savvy and search news and trending topic pages, but how much can be said for everyone else sat in the departure lounges across the world? These are the people delta has lost as loyal customers today, individuals whose questions demanded a little more than 140 character responses.

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