The power of social media — #QantasLuxury, right or wrong?

Oh dear! Alan Joyce CEO of Qantas and perhaps more pertinently, the Qantas marketing and PR department must dread getting out of bed each morning. They seem to be bounding from one communications disaster to another and the response from the public over their social media campaign #QantasLuxury is providing a great education for us running our own businesses. Take note, Twitter is not there as a communication tool to talk at people!

Twitter is a medium so immediate and so open, people are going to tell you what they think, directly and to the rest of the world. It’s fast and furious.

Qantas has watched a Twitter communications nightmare unravel at a rate of about 130 tweets every 10 minutes within just two hours of the social media competition launching to win a pair of luxury pyjamas. At 12pm on November 21, they released a Twitter post with the aim to re-engage the public. The challenge was: “To enter tell us What is your dream luxury in-flight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include Qantas Luxury.”

Within 24 hours, the campaign hashtag #QantasLuxury reached ‘breaking trend’ status in Australia with over 14,700 social media mentions not just in Australia but overseas too as customers high jacked the medium to tell Qantas exactly how unhappy they were. Luxury is a “brand new pair of shoes to walk across the tarmac to an airline that is flying”, tweeted one individual! Some others; “Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire”, or “My idea for Qantas Luxury is not having cabin crew lie to my face about my electronic devices and their safety on a plane.” or “More than 3mins notice that the whole service has been grounded Qantas Luxury”

Surely as one of our iconic brands — Qantas should be doing better in the communications department — after all isn’t it the pride and joy of the country — a company that literally flies the Aussie flag? How did management ever think, that only weeks after grounding planes to break the power of the unions and in doing so grounding hundreds of Australian travellers who missed weddings, funerals and holidays — that a Twitter competition about luxury would work? Wouldn’t a more humbler approach have been more relevant and timely? Isn’t it about matching communication to deal with current sentiment?

Perhaps the real issue is the lack of empathy Qantas is displaying publicly — in spite of an active program of refunds and assistance to customers. Whether Joyce’s decision was brave in saving the company from death by a thousand union cuts or madness — perhaps the main issue is the wider public still don’t understand fully the reasons behind his actions and are still smarting from the experience. Over the preceding months of industrial disputes, union strike action had resulted in 80,000 affected passengers, 600 flights cancelled, seven aircraft grounded and union action at the point of the grounding had cost Qantas $70 million in damages thus far.

Whatever the reasons, the outrage of being asked to leave a plane on the tarmac or spend hours in waiting rooms has left bitter disappointment and bewilderment amongst customers. To jump from emotional pain and practical inconvenience, to luxury is a pretty big swing in anyone’s imagination. Restoring trust perhaps should have been a far more grounded brand priority. Excuse the pun!

Another brand sharing the pain of Qantas this week is Nissan. The vehicle giant has received backlash from consumers after running a Facebook competition to win a car. Great idea! But they awarded the first and second prize to friends of the chap who happens to run Nissan’s social media pages. While Nissan were transparent about the win surely someone in a higher position should have overruled a competitive win to a supplier.

Perhaps the real lesson here is to ensure company strategy is fully engaged with communications strategy. Also the required sentiment from customers is matched to the tactical ideas and execution. Otherwise the outcome is simply never going to match the objective. Here’s to ensuring that communications strategies are part of board decisions and that down the line the agency is briefed from the highest direction and everyone is working to the same end. Stop and think of the bigger picture.

I can’t help feeling Qantas need more than sprinkle dust to move them from the current series of communication and branding errors. Onwards and upwards.

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