Social media and the importance of crisis management planning in the travel sector

April 16, 2019 by Jonathan Hemus


Crises in the travel industry demonstrate the impact of social media and why crisis management planning is fundamental to a successful response. If you haven’t planned how you will manage a social media storm, you will quickly find yourself on the back foot.


Fail to communicate and risk losing control of the narrative

On March 10, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashed killing all 157 passengers on board. Boeing, the manufacturer of the 737 Max, was forced to answer for a second catastrophic crash in less than four months. Concerns about the aircraft’s safety resulted in almost every country suspending the aircraft from operating in their airspace.

Boeing’s response was too slow and passive. In a crisis, social media is a highly effective communication tool but if you fail to communicate appropriately, others will do so for you. Aside from two tweets from Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, and fairly sterile statements the airline posted on social media, Boeing remained silent.

It paved the way for others to assess Boeing’s crisis and lead the narrative, including ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who tweeted: “Oversight must mean accountability, or it means nothing; when lives are lost, the damage cannot be undone.”


Communicating quickly during a crisis

Indeed, one of the first crises that showcased the sheer velocity at which social media spreads news, was the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ – the landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009.

Within 10 minutes of the plane landing on the river, a photo was tweeted by one of the passengers. Half an hour later, news network MSNBC was interviewing him for a witness account of the incident. Less than an hour after the plane landed on the Hudson River, U.S. Airways had issued its first statement.

A decade ago, this pace of communication was unheard of; today it should be the norm.


A successful social media crisis response

A successful social media response to a crisis can be guided by the following principles:

1) Align communication and messaging across all channels (not just social media)

2) Establish yourselves as the key source of credible information by communicating quickly on social media and frequently

3) Activate your website as the information hub and drive people to it with posts to Twitter, Facebook and your other online channels

4) Communicate directly with your people: ensure staff hear the latest situation directly from you rather than relying on social media for their information

5) Remind staff of your social media policy: mis-judged comments by employees on social media can cause distress to those affected or damage to company reputation

6) Interact with people on social media where appropriate (but ignore trolls)

7) Tone of voice is crucial on social media during a crisis – be human yet authentic

8) Be true to your brand and values in what you say and do 

As a sector that is susceptible to risks of many kinds, travel companies, tour operators, airlines and hotel groups are experienced in crisis management planning and training. Ensuring that social media is an essential element of planning for crises will significantly enhance your ability to manage an incident successfully.

Jonathan Hemus, managing director of Insignia, is speaking at the ABTA Crisis Management in Travel Conference on Wednesday, April 24.


Jonathan Hemus

Managing Director

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