3 Lessons Every Brand Can Learn From U.S. Airways' Twitter Debacle

By TechZone360 Special Guest
Matt Finneran, Co-Founder, Sparkcentral
April 29, 2014

A couple weeks ago, U.S. Airways responded to an unsatisfied customer in the most unusual of ways - with a tweet of a pornographic picture involving a large model airplane. For a solid 22 minutes, the tweet sat there on the company's official Twitter feed, getting more than 13,000 retweets. Once noticed, the company promptly removed the offending tweet and apologized.

U.S. Airways' official explanation is simple: human error. A member of the social media team had flagged as inappropriate, and inadvertently copied, an offensive tweet containing the picture. Then, upon switching accounts and responding to a customer's complaints, somehow pasted this link into the conversation.

Big oops.

The real question here isn't how could that have happened (though double checking your links is never a bad idea), but how could it have sat for so long with no one noticing and responding? What lessons can we learn from U.S. Airways pornographic Twitter debacle?

Social media management, much like air traffic control, happens in real-time.

You've heard this before: Social media isn't like other media. It happens in real-time. You can't just check your social media channels periodically like you would your voicemail. U.S. Airways has nearly half a million followers on Twitter. The chances that a large number of those followers are online and paying attention at any given moment is significant. So, when you make a mistake, it doesn't take long at all for it to go completely viral. On Twitter, 22 minutes is an eternity and far too long for a pornographic picture to sit, unintentionally, on any brand's feed.

Never leave just one person to fly the plane.

Just like an airplane has a co-pilot and a number backup systems, so too should any company engaging with its customers on social media. The easiest way to do this is to have many eyes keeping watch. Even if you don't have a social media "team" paying attention, anything involving your brand should be reaching more than one set of eyeballs. Things happen in real time and you should be paying real-time attention to them. Just because someone goes on lunch is no excuse for the company's entire online presence to take a lunch break.

Have an emergency flight plan.

Let's say you're paying attention in real-time with a full social media team, you're crossing your T's and double checking your links, and you still find yourself in a sticky social media situation. Now what? Everyone should have a social media crisis playbook in the event something like this happens. Knowing how to escalate this internally is the key to reacting quickly and not reacting at all - or an online eternity later.

When something like this happens, it's essential you react immediately. First, get corporate communications input on how to proceed and let marketing know so they pull any outgoing tweets that could be offensive. From there, let senior managers know about it and funnel out the do's and don’ts about the incident to the rest of the company.

Matt “Finn” Finneran is Co-Founder at San Francisco startup Sparkcentral. Follow him on Twitter at @SparkcentralHQ

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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