Social Media And Its Place In PR – By Michelle Held

by Jenae Reid on August 21, 2017


In the months since Affiliate Summit West, there have been some spectacular social media fiascos.

One of the most memorable was United Airlines (UAL) CEO, Oscar Munoz, taking to the airwaves labeling the violent removal of one of his passengers as “having to re-accommodate” them. The incident, recorded with smartphones, went viral on social media, and so did Munoz’s non-apology, causing UAL a temporary loss of $1.4 Billion in valuation. Two days later Mr. Munoz finally made amends by taking responsibility with another statement.

British Airways (BA) suffered a catastrophic IT outage from May 27 to May 29, 2017. All computer systems at its hub in Heathrow airport and nearby Gatwick Airport were offline – from passenger check in, to baggage routing, and even their website. What did they have left? BA directed passengers to consult Twitter for the latest updates. They posted an explanation from their Chairman & CEO, Alex Cruz, in the form of a pinned Tweet. Unlike UAL, the video also included a sincere apology. Spot on, right?

Since the call centers and website were also affected by the IT outage, Social media was their only means of communication. Twitter had no real-time information. Passengers reported three hour long lines just to leave the airport sans their luggage.

Not All Fiascos are a Fiasco

Do you remember those two adorable toddlers that crashed a live BBC broadcast with South Korean expert Professor Robert Kelly (aka their Dad)? The BBC could cut to a commercial, but calmly powered through the segment. The result lit up the internet.

Kids have an innate ability to sense inconvenient moments in their parent’s life, and this was an “incident” that every can parent can relate to. What could have spun into a televised embarrassment was handled smoothly by an experienced crew that brought both the BBC and the family positive media coverage.

Social Media: Mea Culpa

During a June International Air Transport Association General Meeting, three major airline CEO’s said they felt they had under 15 minutes to respond to an incident. They know the public will start posting and streaming before they land and getting out in front and owning the story is critical to public relations.

A solid social media strategy involves more than just reacting to public relations disasters. Businesses that are not active on social should realize that whether they participate or not, their customers are out talking about them. Choosing to be a part of the conversation is up to them. For major brands, this usually is not an issue, but they can still be tone deaf as UAL was.

The first step is to establish a presence on as many channels as possible. If you’re a startup, then choose one or two and master them. Find a few productivity tools. Most of all, work on listening for mentions of your brand.


Michelle is an and author and consultant who blogs on and

This article appeared in issue 39 of FeedFront Magazine, which was published in July 2017.


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