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What you can learn from #Boycott Delta

On December 21st Delta found themselves facing a social media crisis. A video posted to Twitter appeared to show a young Muslim man being kicked off of a Delta flight simply because he was speaking Arabic. The video immediately went viral and was retweeted an absolutely astonishing 847,000 times. And it didn’t even include the #BoycottDelta hashtag.

#BoycottDelta quickly spread and started trending, further fueling the fire. By the end of the day, over 568,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag, and Delta had a massive crisis on their hands. Most tweets called the airline racist and blasted them for removing the passenger. And the few tweets that were in support of Delta were blatantly racist against Muslims and Arabic people, giving Delta no one they could align themselves with.

As the dust started to settle, it slowly came out that the whole incident may have actually been a hoax, or at least planned, by a YouTube prankster with a history of acting out on planes. But that didn’t stop the #BoycottDelta hashtag from reaching 300 million people in 6 days.

And while I'm not going to judge whether or not it was a hoax, or whether Delta was justified in removing the passengers, it's likely that some people actually did avoid flying with Delta during the busiest time of the year.

Social media can be a very powerful tool. But it can also be incredibly damaging if the tide turns against you. Fortunately, there’s lessons to be learned from Delta’s holiday nightmare.

Every customer interaction can instantly be shared

Social media doesn’t just give you the power to reach customers, it also gives customers the power to share their experiences. A massive audience is available to anyone with just a short, 140 character message, and it doesn’t take much for a tweet to catch fire and damage your brand.

Because social media doesn't rest, you can't afford to either. Any negative experience, whether real or perceived, can be put online. What would have been an isolated incident in the past can now be shared instantly with the world. This intense scrutiny means that you must always be committed to providing a fantastic experience to your customers.

It's not just Delta who's learned this lesson. Every year (it seems) 1-800-Flowers faces a barrage of negative tweets and Facebook posts from angry customers on Valentine’s Day.

Photos of some pretty pathetic looking flowers are shared online. It’s the type of thing the internet loves, so it quickly goes viral, leading to listicles and memes and a whole lot of negative coverage.

You’ve got to feel for the poor social media staff who diligently reply to every Tweet and Facebook post, but 1-800-Flowers does do a good job answering complaints and shifting the conversation to a private message or email, away from the public eye, to help resolve the issue. A quick response that helps the customer can often turn a damaging experience into a positive one.

Have a plan to control the message

You can’t control what people say on social media, but if you’re faced with a crisis you have to be prepared to respond quickly, effectively and honestly. Once Delta realized they had a crisis on their hands, they stopped their regular customer service tweets and put out a statement.

It was brief and to the point, but it acknowledged that an incident took place and indicated they were launching an investigation. Later that day, they put out a further statement detailing what happened on the flight in question. They then resumed their regular tweeting and waited for the rage to die down.

Social media moves quickly, and even the best of intentions can go wrong. Take Dropbox for example. Just a week earlier they released their Diversity Report through Twitter. While the report itself had some promising statistics, the tweet completely backfired and they had a sudden crisis on their hands.

For a large tech company, Dropbox doesn’t tweet much, and that inexperience may have been part of the issue here. The tweet read “Diversity at Dropbox” rather than “Dropbox releases Diversity Report”, or something similar.

Give them credit for using a photo of actual employees rather than a stock image, but when you tweet out a photo of what appears to be all white and white passing people while promoting diversity, you have a recipe for disaster.

Dropbox quickly released a statement explaining what happened, and what the intention of the tweet was. They managed to avoid a full-fledged emergency, but the incident left them embarrassed, and shows just how hard social media can really be.

At the end of the day, social media is hard to control

It’s an eternal truth that people are more likely to complain than praise, and social media gives them a platform to do so more easily than ever before. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid social media altogether. In fact, it’s even more important that you are online so that you can monitor conversations, respond to any complaints, and, as much as possible, control the messaging around your brand.

And before you find yourself in a social media crisis like #BoycottDelta, make sure you have a plan in place for how you will respond. You can’t stop the internet from running with something, but you can help shape the conversation and potentially limit the damage by responding the right way and indicating the steps you are taking to improve.


Bridge the Gap Marketing Solutions can help guide your social media strategy so that you can make the most of your platforms. Check out our Social Media solutions and see how we can help you.


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