Airbus : Appropriate response

The web and social media response to the Germanwings tragedy shows the aerospace industry has got its act together.

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The feature

When Germanwings flight 9525 crashed on 24 March, Airbus put a short statement in an overlay panel on the home page, linking through to a statement in the press section.

Before that the @airbus Twitter feed put out a series of messages. At 11.12am a pair saying ‘We are aware of media reports’ and ‘We will provide further information as soon as possible’ was posted, followed at 11.49am by two confirming there had been accident. At 2.21pm a link to a statement on the site was sent out. Two days later a triple tweet expressing sympathy was put up. There was then a hiatus before normal tweets, mainly about new customers and deliveries, resumed.

Comments attached to the early posts included several with speculation about the causes, or were frivolous. 

The takeaway

How fast things have changed. When a piece of engine cowling fell off a Qantas A380 in November 2010, the first the airline’s CEO knew about it was when the share price started falling. But Twitter followers knew about it, because pictures had been tweeted around the world. Airbus, the manufacturer, was also caught flatfooted, and two years later industry managers told us they still had little idea how to react.

But Airbus’s response in March (which was more than matched by Lufthansa’s) followed a prepared plan. As soon as it knew there was a problem it tweeted ‘We’re trying to find out more’ then ‘We know this has happened’, followed by ‘Here’s a statement on our site’. Had it not done that, Twitter would have been crammed with a mass of ill-informed speculation. There was still a lot (see the early comments if you want examples), but most people said ‘OK, we’ll wait’, and let it keep some sort of control over the flow of information. It then waited before switching back to its usual upbeat tone; appropriate.

It sounds simple, but it needs clear processes to be put in place, and also effort put into building a decent followership to spread the word fast when it needed. The evidence is that the aerospace industry has been shocked into getting things right. The same is not, we suspect, true of sectors that have yet to be startled by the scary power of social media.
First published 08 April, 2015
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