Thanks to Friend of BRANDEMiX Bruce of The Dorskind Group for this one:Nov 6th 2008:The Economist print edition. Illustration by David Simonds.
A tale of two airlines and their Facebook fiascos
AS WELL as embracing blogs, firms have been exploiting social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to get their messages to a broader audience. But although they have the potential to be useful marketing tools, such networks can also be a source of damaging publicity, as British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic have discovered to their cost.One more example of how talking to your employees has moved from the water cooler to the world.
On October 31st Virgin fired 13 of its cabin crew who had posted derogatory comments about its safety standards and some of its passengers on a Facebook forum. Among other things, crew members joked that some Virgin planes were infested with cockroaches and described customers as “chavs”, a disparaging British term for people with flashy bad taste. On November 3rd BA began investigating the behaviour of several employees who had described some passengers as “smelly” and “annoying” in Facebook postings.
Some airline customers may not be fragrant paragons of exquisite taste, but attacking them online is a public-relations (PR) disaster that raises the question of whether the two firms have done enough to educate staff about acceptable use of the internet. BA says employees sign a policy that forbids them from posting information about the firm online without specific authorisation. But it clearly needs to do more to reinforce that message. Virgin points out that it has several internal channels through which staff can vent frustrations. But if these were effective, why would employees feel the need to moan on Facebook?
Communications specialists say the rise of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter make it all the more important to reiterate online guidelines frequently. “Anything you now say online is amplified by these services,” warns Aedhmar Hynes, the boss of Text 100, a PR firm.
Another lesson is that managers need to monitor online activity closely to ensure that rules are respected. Virgin discovered its employees’ posts only when enraged passengers complained. A spokesman for BA says it learnt about its Facebook problem from a press report. Phil Gomes of Edelman, another PR firm, urges companies to frequent what he calls “online watering holes” where people exchange gossip and views. Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, but firms that spot problems early could end up with less egg on their faces.
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