Twitter Wrongfully Bites Uber During Trump Travel Ban: Death By Social Media

By Rob Enderle January 30, 2017

This has been an interesting weekend not only are there fascinating conspiracy theories circulating (be aware the same foundational elements would be critical to fixing a government as well) but what drew my attention was the backlash against Uber that occurred.  In this case, it was for not charging extra and I think it is a fascinating case of blaming another firm for a mistake made by taxi drivers. 

The Taxi Mistake

What happened was, as a result of a President Trump order, which was badly executed at best, the Taxi union then decided to strike in support of those protesting the order at JFK Airport.  Now this strike was poorly thought through in that protestors had to get to and from the venue, the passengers coming in had virtually nothing to do with causing the problem, and some of those adversely impacted were likely those that had also been detained then released as a result of the order.  Instead of striking the Taxi drivers, if they likely wanted to support this, they should have at least been providing free rides for protestors to the venue and for those adversely impacted by the action from the venue.  But they went on strike instead forcing everyone to use other public transportation and services like Uber and Lift. 

Uber

Now Uber had been blasted back in September for charging Surge pricing when an explosion in New York City’s Chelsea district resulted in a flood of riders.  Surge pricing is a bump, often significant, in pricing which is designed to get more Uber drivers on the road to handle the extra people.  You see Uber drivers typically give themselves somewhat reasonable shifts and a significant number may be on break when a lot of unplanned people want to use the service to motivate these folks to get off break, much like time and a half for overtime, you pay more.  A Taxi service would simply set the average fair high enough to cover events like this spreading the cost over every rider, Uber just charges the folks that need the service the overage.  This is one of the reasons Uber is generally a ton cheaper than a taxi. 

So, having learned from this mistake, they issued a tweet saying they would suspend surge pricing during the strike so that protestors and those already suffering through what had to be a horrid airport experience didn’t also get pounded with extra fees.  (I think this kind of screws the Uber drivers though unless Uber makes up the difference). 

Instead of being thanked, the Taxi drivers accused them of strike breaking - once again showcasing that Uber really needs a far better crisis management team. 

Lyft

Lyft, who also has surge pricing (over 3x normal now), didn’t suspend it, but instead agreed to donate a large sum of money to the ACLU and came out in vocal support of the event.  Lyft, who continued to operate, was praised for their reaction while Uber was blasted even though, from the rider’s standpoint (but likely not the driver’s) what Uber did was potentially far more helpful and certainly less costly than Lyft’s action and now folks on Twitter and other social media channels are apparently deleting their Uber accounts in protest.   Uber later announced they would donate 3x what Lyft donated directly to legal assistance for their drivers impacted by this.  

Wrapping Up:  The Insanity of Social Media

So, putting this all together, the Taxi drivers made things worse by calling a strike and further hurting those already impacted by the Trump order including those protesting and being released from detention.  Uber waves extra charges, which they are entitled to, while Lyft leaves the charges in place making the most money off this deal and Uber is seen as the bad guy when they took what looks to be the biggest financial hit especially when you factor in their larger announced, better targeted donation.  

I think this just showcases how insane social media can be.  The jump between action and reaction often results in the wrong people being targeted, victims further abused, and, in this case, not attacking an agency that made things worse and instead attacking one that was trying to help.  Makes me wonder why any sane person uses social media.  

It also suggests that, if you are a company like Uber, you really need a qualified and well compensated social media team tightly coupled with your crisis management effort.  Just saying…   




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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