The new media and crisis management: lesson from Aero contractors

I have enjoyed flying Aero contractors for a while now. Besides the initial comfort of booking online at a fair price (atimes), most of their flights, from my experience have been quite smooth and fast.

Recently, however, I have found that I reduced taking their flights for reasons such as delay and unavailable flights; but I did not really think it was a big deal until I heard similar stories from friends and family members.

About two months back, there was news of a near-mishap as their aircraft developed a fault mid-air. The first place I saw the news was a blog, I cannot actually remember seeing so much about it in print. Not so much was heard from the airline officials about the incident and what was done to prevent further occurrences. If much was said, it had little or no effect as a few days later, I got numerous text messages and blackberry messages of the poor condition of Aero aircrafts and how they are liable to accidents. The spread of these messages was so viral that even Aero knew they were up against a difficult situation. Immediately, several full-page, centre spread announcements were published, denying those claims. But the damage was done. People had lost their faith in Aero.

Blackberry owners will testify to how fast information is spread these days. When you can be in Victoria Island and be informed of a robbery on Third Mainland Bridge. One can actually view traffic from your mobile phone and even hold meetings millions of miles away. Information is transferred at the speed of light and does not allow for mistakes anymore. After the experiences of BP and many top firms online, businesses need to be careful how they manage their communications especially now that opinions are spread like wildfire. Remember Bellview?

When many people think of new media, they seem to think it just has to do with young ones and how they spend their time. However, communication has never been tested and twisted like it is today and corporations are one of the worst hit.

While trying to send a press release to the newspaper house, a popular blogger whose auntie just survived the crash already drops the news as it’s fresh off the stove! It seems almost impossible to beat the speed at which people send messages via the digital space.

What then, can brands such as airlines do to retain their customer’s loyalty even as these new technologies seem to compound(or over-simplify )communication processes?

Some suggestions:

-Know your current audience: Yes, your audience might not change, but their habits might have changed. While they would have waited for you to release a statement in the newspapers some years ago, they might be discussing you on Facebook right now. Know them, their reading habits, their preferences and how best to reach them

-Maintain accounts in popular social media platforms: As cliché as this may sound, it is real. Airplanes are flown by even babies and so it is important to allow a space which helps you communicate with your customers whose lives are usually in your care for a period of time.

– Update status frequently and allow people to ask questions; to which there should be prompt , truthful and effective responses. No rudeness is permitted on your side whatsoever.

-Allow a dedicated account/phone number/blackberry PIN/email/profile/page etc for crisis communication. People always feel comfortable and well respected when there is a sure line of communication in times of crisis. It’s like having that friend or family member who will always listen to your rants.

-Be proactive: update your website with news, official statements of occurrences before people begin to ask. Send releases to popular bloggers, websites, news portals, gossip sites, etc before they begin a discussion on you.

– Be mindful of relations and friends: in extreme cases, where there have been losses of lives or property, make sure you the family and friends are properly communicated to before others spread out the information.

-Be in control: if possible, make sure that every news item on the incident has a solid input from you, rather than speculation or from “unknown sources”.

– While dealing with any crisis, work to produce a better recovery plan which involves the new media.