Blog April 15: The infamous US Airways tweet: how to steer a social media crisis


Yesterday saw another big social media crisis, this time for US Airways. Their twitter response to complaining consumers included a very inappropriate picture. The same picture was tweeted to its probably intended target, employees at competitor American Airlines. Reaction in social media was swift, and the story was taken up by mainstream news. I also saw a retweet that incorrectly identified United airlines as the offender. The question I get from managers: What can companies and their competitors do when faced with such a social media crisis?

In the short run, react immediately. It took US Airways 22 minutes to take down the offensive tweet, which is long in Twitterverse. Next, apologize, which is what US Airways did. Competitors should not gloat; because the public may put them in the same bucket – witness the United Airlines confusion. Research by Ozyegin’s Raoul Kuebler and KLU Hamburg’s Soenke Albers and Michael Riechert shows that an ethical norm violation hurts marketing effectiveness for all market players. Better lay low for a while and track consumers’ minds and thoughts in your dashboard, as shown in chapter 9 of

In the long run, strengthening your brand and your relation with consumers is the one thing that will prevent such crises (from spinning out of control). Research shows the benefits of having a strong and trusted brand to begin with. Companies like IKEA appear unaffected by the many product recalls (media cover them selectively and mostly positive, so consumers don’t even notice) in research by Raoul Kuebler and myself. Likewise, Pampers was able to turnaround social media claims that their new product gave babies diaper rash with a concerted campaign supported by experts and their loyal customers.

What does this mean for US Airways? The news is not good: the brand is not particularly loved and their relation with consumers is rocky at best. Therefore, at least some others may share my first reaction that the tweet was at least subconsciously intentional: their complaint service says it is doing all it can to work out your problems, but their visuals are telling consumers to get lost….

Happily flying the friendly skies,



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