Qantas A380 incident: a lesson in social media and web PR
Today’s emergency landing of a Qantas Airbus A380 at Changi Airport in Singapore was another example of how travel companies need to establish a solid social and web PR strategy.
Firstly, let’s get what actually happened out of the way, by way of official confirmation from Qantas after the event.
Flight QF32 from Singapore to Sydney, Australia, left Changi Airport at 10am (Singapore time).
The aircraft experienced a problem with one of its engines shortly after take-off and returned immediately to Singapore, to be met on the runway by fire crews following reports of smoke coming from the engine.
Footage from the BBC (above) illustrates the damage to the affected engine. Qantas has grounded its fleet of six A380s ahead of a full investigation.
But the modern demands of the 24-7 news cycle and the more recent addition of social media meant that the picture in the immediate aftermath was confusing to say the least, and terrifying for friends and relatives of passengers at worst.
See this short article on Reuters:
At the same time as these clearly inaccurate reports were emerging, passengers were tweeting pictures from the aircraft of the damage.
The situation was so chaotic in the initial hours after the incident that Qantas officials were supposedly telling Australia media that no wreckage was found on the small Indonesian island of Batam as a dramatic and pretty incriminating photo was spreading around the web.
Eventually the airline and officials on the ground got their ducks in a row and released a statement on the airline’s website.
But in a world often led by news reports emanating or spreading through social media, perhaps Qantas did not react as quickly as it could.
To its credit, Qantas placed a message on the airline’s Facebook page and has responded a number of times to some of the comments left on the post.
But the rather unwieldy and viral world of Twitter is more immediate (some might call it live) and is where crisis, or incident, management needs to take place.
The former has not updated its account with any information about the incident, meaning one of the most recent messages sits rather awkwardly under the current circumstances.
The latter gave an update of sorts when asked about the incident, but was arguably not particularly helpful either.
Thankfully the entire incident ended safely, which is clearly the most important thing.
But how it was dealt with in the immediate aftermath – when social media has a tendency to spiral out of control, unless a coordinated approach is carried out – will be an abject lesson from which other airlines and travel companies can easily learn.
UPDATE: Another Qantas aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, was forced to return to Singapore’s Changi Airport on Friday 5 November after problems with one of its engines.
NB: Hat-tip @travelfish for picture sourcing.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.