Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Online Bullhorn: How Travelers Are Using Social Media to Complain

In 2008, a Canadian musician named Dave Carroll took a flight from Halifax to Omaha on United Airlines.  Upon landing, he discovered his checked guitar had been utterly destroyed.  Unable to get United to take accountability or give compensation, Carroll decided to do what he does best - make music.  

After releasing in July 2009, "United Breaks Guitars" gained over five million views by the middle of August.  United, humiliated, quickly attempted to rectify the situation, though it was a bit too little too late for Carroll, who subsequently released two follow-up songs to the original.  United didn't only lose face, their stock fell 10% within four weeks of the first video's release.

Others are getting in on the complaint action.  Angered by the difficulty of getting through to customer service call centers, air travelers are increasingly taking to Twitter to complain about anything from flight cancellations to fellow passengers.  And the amazing thing is it's working.  Airlines now have entire social media teams to handle comments across Twitter, Facebook, and travel review sites.

But sometimes companies fall flat in their approach to social media response.  One particularly infamous example involved Sky Air Services, an Australian travel agency.  When faced with customers complaining about the company, Sky Air Services dished it right back.

So what can travel companies do to mitigate these public relations fiascoes, besides not messing up in the first place?  Business consultant Danielle Graham offers some guidelines:

1. Respond promptly.
2. Respond publicly, but then take the conversation offline
3. Stay positive
4. Be solution-oriented
5. Encourage feedback
6. Acknowledge resolutions back on the social platform

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