Boeing : Leaving it late

Delayed online reaction betrays a crisis of understanding

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The Site

Boeing, the US-based aircraft manufacturer, has been slow to react to the forced grounding of its Dreamliner passenger plane. Boeing’s home page has a full-width content carousel that runs through seven panels in sequence. The panel showing on page launch carries a large headline for ‘Boeing’s Official Statement on 787 Dreamliner’ and a link, ‘Read’, to it. The statement covers the grounding by aviation authorities of the Dreamliner and opens on a page in the site’s Media section that has a set of Share this Page buttons including e-mail as well as standard social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. There are no links to the statement from the Dreamliner pages in the Products section or in Investors, and no other references in these sections to the issue. The home page panel appeared late on 16 January only after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency directive to aircraft operators to withdraw the plane from service. Until then there had been no reaction on the site to the grounding by Japanese airlines of their Dreamliner fleets following an emergency landing by a 787 on 15 January. The incident was acknowledge in a single Twitter posting on the evening of 15 January and there were no further company tweets until 22 hours later, after the FAA’s announcement, when three were issued. As of mid-afternoon UK-time on 17 January these had not been added to for 13 hours. Content on its well-established Randy’s Journal blog ( followed a similar pattern.

The Takeaway

Boeing is not using the internet well to respond to the Dreamliner crisis, even though it’s a crucial channel for protecting a company’s reputation. Its initial lack of an online response beyond a solitary tweet after the groundings in Japan suggests several non-exclusive interpretations: that that message has not yet got home to senior management at Boeing; that it still relies on a conservative approach that served it well for decades; that its lawyers are holding it back – or that it takes intervention from its own government to focus its mind (itself not a reputation-bolstering impression to leave). Even when it has activated an online response, it looks too little as well as too late. While the home page ‘statement’ panel is the one visitors first see it is the only link they are offered outside the Media section to the company response: neither statement nor link are provided for investors, whose importance as stakeholders is emphasised by the drop in Boeing’s share price since the landing incident in Japan, The late enrolment of the blog and in particular the timid use of Twitter – which could be used more actively to manage communications, especially with journalists who increasingly use it as source for their stories – are other signs that Boeing perhaps fears but does not really grasp the dynamics of the medium.
First published 17 January, 2013
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