Do airlines know how to handle social media?

It is a well-known fact for every business, including the airline industry, that social media has become a primary arena for customer engagement, directly driving lead generation through interaction and relevant content sharing. (Evans, 2010) In many cases social media brings benefits for various airlines, it is often used to increase brand awareness and loyalty, to guide the customers throughout each step of their journeys and it can all be done at relatively low costs. However, sometimes airline marketers fail at social media and one single mistake can cause brand damage, if not handled correctly.

Qantas Airways, the flag carrier airline of Australia, must be the most unlucky airline when it comes to social media strategies and their implementations. Right after having to apologize for weight-loss spam messages on Twitter due to their account getting hacked, Qantas faced another fail right away but in this case it was caused by their own social media marketers. While the airline was going through industrial action, which resulted in many flight cancellations worldwide, some marketers decided to go on with their ongoing social media strategy and launched a competition on Twitter, where customers were invited to use ‘quantasluxury’ hashtag and share their suggestions for a dream in-flight experience (Schneider, 2011). This is when the customers saw the opportunity to show off their frustration caused by flight disruptions and, therefore, shared numbers of sarcastic and angry tweets attacking the airline. This resulted into Qantas having to hire extra four full-time social media managers to help take control of the situation and help save the company’s reputation (Schneider, 2011). Qantas social media ‘fails’ show how important it is to strengthen your social media accounts’ security to maximum and how bad timing of a certain campaign can turn everything around and only bring negative effects.

However, if an airline receives complaints or negative comments on social media platforms, it does not mean that everything is lost – the reputation can still be saved, but only if social media marketers take it seriously and act immediately. JetBlue, for example, is known as one of the airlines, which handles online customer complaints in the most professional and effective way by turning them into compliments. JetBlue’s social media team works 24/7 and takes 10 minute response time (on average) and keeping in mind that the airline receives around 2.500 mentions a day only on Twitter, this response rate is definitely impressive and still seems to be hardly achievable for lots of other carriers. (Hong, 2015) But it is not only about the response time. JetBlue’s social media goal is to add value, engage smartly in an organic and natural manner, and most importantly to effectively handle negativity that gets spread on their social media platforms. (Kolowich, 2014) Surprisingly enough, JetBlue, in some of the cases, does not go above and beyond by apologizing to every disappointed passenger, they do not start giving away gifts for everyone complaining about flight delays due to factors that are beyond their control, such as heavy weather conditions. Instead, they keep their customers updated on what to expect, try to keep personal touch and do everything that is in their hands behind-the-scenes: ‘Apologizing to everyone just makes us look apologetically sad and like we may not have a handle on things, when the truth is, we’re doing all we can to get people where they want to go’ (Kolowich, 2014). This approach, according to Laurie Meacham, Manager of Customer Commitment, is the most efficient way to keep customers well informed and make them feel cared for in the case of negative experiences.

Even though social media platforms might seem as the perfect arena for the airline industry to engage with customers and add extra value in the most cost-effective way, it is important to remember that consumer power in this digital age is growing enormously and many things can go wrong just because of one wrong move. Therefore, airlines should be ready to handle every complaint or inappropriateness that occurs on social media quickly and effectively, otherwise it might escalate to a more serious problem.




Evans, D. (2010). Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement.

Hong, P. (2015, January 7). Linkdex. Retrieved from How Can Breands Turn Consumer Complaints Into Compliments On Social Media?:

Kolowich, L. (2014, July 28). HubSpot. Retrieved from Delighting People in 140 Characters: An Inside Look at JetBlue’s Customer Service Success:

Schneider, K. (2011, November 22). Retrieved from Fail! Qantas red-faced after Twitter campaign backfires:



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