Starving passengers ‘rationed Pringles’ – Virgin America learns painful social media lesson

TwitterUpdated 18/03/2010: And you know you are going to be a case study in a text-book when even the Harvard Business Review analyses what went wrong: Real-time brand management – lessons from Virgin America’s hellish flight (Harvard Business Review, 18/03/2010) I would especially draw your attention to the ‘trust bank’ concept from this article to ask yourself: does my brand has sufficient accumulated goodwill, or a ‘reservoir’ of goodwill as put by the article, so that my brand can deflect a social media storm?

17/03/2010: No doubt, Virgin America executives had better days than 16 March 2010. Thanks to social media they woke up to very unpleasant headlines around the world:

So, how does a flight from Los Angeles to New York become a global social media circus?

  1. It appears from the reports that Virgin America had no contingency plans in place to deal with a situation where one of its plans are diverted due to weather. This does strike me as odd. You would think that like any other organisation, an airline would have emergency plans that kick into action when something unfortunately extraordinary happens. And be honest one would think that for an airline a diverted plane would not even qualify as an extraordinary event but rather something it would need to be ready and prepared for as an ordinary course of its business.
  2. You have the CEO of a social networking site on your plane who decides to chronicle the passengers’ plight live on social media (David Martin, CEO of! But let’s say you didn’t have a social media CEO on your plane … you are still likely to end up with countless passengers tweeting and blogging their experience to a worldwide audience real-time.

So, what can you do in a world where everyone seems to have a Twitter or blog account?

First, you need to monitor social media real-time! You need to be aware of what is being said about your company and in what forums as close to real-time as possible. You should have formal processes in place to get regular reports on your company’s social media presence and when that presence is critical you should receive immediate and regular alerts.

Second, when disaster strikes it is not enough to know that things went wrong. You will need to be ready to move fast to manage and minimise the fallout. Toyota’s recent social media disaster is another useful example in this context. With today’s social media tools local customer experiences can become global brand drains virtually in minutes.

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