We’ve read some great and insightful takes on the United overbooking/forced-passenger removal fiasco this week. As communications professionals this terrible incident provides a stark reminder just how easily an organisations’ reputation can be irreparably damaged.
As Tim Burrowes at Mumbrella points out: it takes years to build a positive brand identity, and merely seconds to tear all that hard work down.
The company missed its one small window to successfully stay ahead of the crisis and made things worse by not immediately taking responsibility for the incident. United also failed to properly manage the continuing fallout, failing to correct the emerging narrative that passengers were bumped from the overbooked flight to make room for off-duty staff. Whether or not this was true, it was one of the few elements that the company had any control over.
Within days a proliferation of memes had sprouted up all over the internet like mushrooms. Jimmy Kimmell’s viral video was seen by millions of potential customers. And the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos continues to churn out hilarious grist for the viral online mill.
All that damage from a few bad decisions at a critical juncture in the public relations cycle.
So what’s next for United? How do they go about repairing their image and moving on from a PR disaster of this magnitude?
As they say, nothing is ever lost forever on the internet, so that infamous viral video of the incident isn’t going anywhere soon. Obviously some heads are going to be on the chopping block, right up to and possibly including CEO Oscar Munoz. They may take note of a few other recent PR incidents that might offer some guidance.
So, a quarter of million dollars in stock market valuation, and countless gifs and late night comedy bits later, United is stranded in crisis land.
Cheers, Jack & the c word crew