An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777.

If you don’t think a crisis could happen to you let’s look at two very different cases that both involved crisis management and a dire need for public relations/reputation management. Last week I touched on Paula Deen and her horrendous interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show after skipping out of her previously scheduled first interview. This week we have a more tragic example of a company in need of crisis communications, with the Asiana airplane crash in San Francisco.

Social media enables each of us to become citizen journalists. Any company that ignores that fact, is truly sticking their head in the sand in today’s society.Let’s look in-depth at the reaction to the Asiana airplane crash at SFO. A huge shout out of thanks to Jeff Domansky, the PR Coach, for connecting me with this superb SlideShare slide show from SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing firm.  This is a must-see for anyone interested in social media or in crisis communications.


According to the SimpliFlying timeline of the air crash,the first reaction was a tweet from a Google employee who saw the crash and sent her tweet one minute after the plane crash landed at San Francisco at 11:28 AM, Saturday, July 6, 2013. Journalists across the country clambered to interview that first tweeter. SimpliFlying credits the NTSB with staying on top of social media throughout the day, posting regular updates. (They’ve since had their own PR woes.) However, Asiana airlines did not respond with a press release until 8:43 PM that evening. In this case silence did in fact speak louder than words. The company was roundly criticized for not quickly making a statement to the media through Facebook or twitter.  The most interesting slide of all shows the stock price of Asiana Airlines plummeting as rumors were running rampant about their pilots lack of experience. So for those who don’t think social media matters, look at the bottom line.

Some takeaway tips from MarketingMel:

Whether you are Asiana Airlines or a business professional in East Tennessee,

1. Be prepared: Have a crisis communications plan in place. Incorporate a social media strategy as part of your crisis communications plan.

2. Always show empathy and concern for those involved. Tragically, school children lost their lives in this crash. Getting the CEO to San Francisco was a great start on that road.

3. Prepare three key messages: Remember that we humans think and remember in threes. Assess the situation, prepare your talking points and stay on message.

4. Tell the truth: Never fudge the facts. If you don’t yet know an answer find it out and then get back to your audience.

Remember that in today’s age of instant communications, timing is everything. The conversation will go on whether you are there or not so make sure your crisis communications plan is in place as part of your overall strategic planning. If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me. I “cut my teeth” practicing for crises when I worked in public relations at a nuclear defense company. I have since helped attorneys and their clients as well as private corporations and public officials prepare for the unexpected.

What are your thoughts about the air crash and the way in which it was handled? How would you have handled it better?



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10 Responses to “A tweet heard round the world: Crisis Communications in the Age of twitter”

  1. Several years ago a guy was Tweeting a blow by blow description of a US Army strike in the middle east. I am quite sure the Armed Forces never dreamed that the word about the strike would get out through Twitter. The world is an instantaneous place, and there are no secrets. Act accordingly.

  2. One of the problems corporations have is to avoid taking responsibility (and liability) when a disaster happens until they know the facts. Your tip on on having a plan in place would alleviate this concern, by at least acknowledging the problem and they they will have more announcements as they get information. This is much better than radio silence.

  3. It blows my mind that even with all of the tools companies have to communicate with their audience – that are FREE or low cost, they still don’t use them! The lack of response on the airline’s part is inexcusable. Where were their PR people? What about their marketing team? Did they have no one able to jump in and at least say, we’re so sorry?

    • maryellen says:

      Jennifer I find it inexcusable as well that a major airline wouldn’t admit they were sorry for a tragic accident. However I suppose they worry more with legal than with their own reputation.

  4. You definitely want to have a plan and gather the facts in a crisis situation, but you don’t want to remain completely silent for hours and hours before at least acknowledging that there is a situation. That’s were a lot of people and organizations fall down.

    • maryellen says:

      Tiffany I agree that there must be acknowledgement of the situation and ongoing fact gathering at the very least!

  5. Sometimes you just have to say “Sorry”. Ignoring a situation is like a slap in the face to those affected. Great Post Mel!

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