This is a cautionary tale — about reputation, story and social media.
The world loves a story. United Airlines’ misadventure in passenger ‘re-accommodation’ on a flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday is a reminder of what can go wrong when companies fail to remember that.
If the world loves a story, the internet loves outrage. And nothing helps outrage go viral better than Facebook, where a fellow passenger first posted the video of the man – a doctor – being bodily dragged from the plane by security agents. Later images of his bleeding head only served to fan the flames.
It seemed that once the story was out, it was like a train speeding out of control – impossible to derail before the train wreck.
But it was only once the damage hit the company where it hurt – in its share price – that the CEO finally issued an apology. A real one, not the the wooden excuse first issued by United on its website. Timing is everything, and had this statement been issued immediately, it may have helped avert the worst disaster.
United Airlines claims to operate the world’s most comprehensive network, flying some 143 million passengers in 2016. The airline is also the unfortunate owner of the brand positioning: “Fly the friendly skies of United.” How much time and money went into building that brand? Aside from the injury and insult to valued customers, I am struck by the appalling waste of advertising dollars, and the loss of face for the thousands of people who work for the airline.
The unfortunate affair has resulted in some of funniest memes seen lately on the internet.
The moral of the story: a reputation takes years to build and only moments to destroy.