How do you manage a “social media #fail” moment?

Today, many of us watched a social media disaster happening on Twitter as the whole #QantasLuxury drama unfolded in real time.

Through the funny, sarcastic, and entertaining Tweets, I still sensed a horrible sensation in my stomach, almost akin to watching a crash or a fall happening right before my eyes. And, just like in real life, it's hard to look away when you witness such a thing.

#QantasLuxury Social Media Campaign #Fail on Twitter

Reading the Tweets coming through the hash tag, which @QantasAirways decided to use for their latest social media competition (giving away luxury pajamas and toiletry set), I had to wonder what the social media folks behind the account were feeling.

You see, instead of the expected "dream luxury travel ideas" that they were inviting people to send through, Twitter users managed to hijack the hash tag to air grievances about the airlines that has already been in the media and public spotlight for some time now.

It may have been a case of good intentions going real bad, as Qantas appears to continue playing deaf and blind to public sentiment (oh, the irony of #QantasWeHearYou hash tag!).

But, it does make you wonder: Who is responsible when a major social media fail happens to your organisation?

Is it the social media person/team, who should be advising management on what is the public sentiment online and how the organisation should respond? Or, is it management who should've been setting guidelines on what types of messages should go through the social media platforms at any given time? What if management and the social media team do not agree on the right approach?

As someone who works in the area of social media management for an organisation, the #QantasLuxury scenario is one social networking nightmare that I'd dread to deal with (and I hope I never have to!). I mean, some people are going as far as saying that the social media team should be fired, and I'm not sure if this is a clear cut case of "social media done badly". Yes, there were a few things that could've been handled better overall, and there were some faux pas. But in reality, the issue is really much bigger than what was being done on their social media account.

So, I really do feel for the social media folks @QantasAirways. After all, the initial negativity that arose from the public wasn't really because of the competition itself. It was because there was already an existing negative sentiment that Qantas as a company hasn't yet dealt with. And, there they were, the official Twitter voices of the company, trying to talk about luxury travel and pajamas. No wonder all hell broke loose.

Had it not been for the existing challenges that Qantas was already facing, the competition itself isn't bad. I won't say it's a fantastic idea even on any other day. But, the issue is that... Well, it felt like Qantas doesn't want to deal with the issues, so they throw in lighthearted posts on their official Twitter account instead (ever had a fight with someone who pretends there's no fight happening?).

You know what they say about trying to run away from your problems? Yes, the problems do just end up running after you.

Having said all these, some people also say that perhaps, this isn't such a disastrous PR situation as it's being portrayed everywhere. After all, the #QantasLuxury hash tag has been top trending all day on Twitter, and it has received a number of media coverage all over Australia and even overseas. There are photo and video parodies being created and shared all over the web, blog posts being written and published (including this!)... So, as far as viral campaigning goes, this has definitely reached that situation.

So, it does beg the age old question: Is there really such a thing as good/bad PR? Are top trends and media coverage the best yardstick of PR success, regardless of "sentiment" expressed in those mentions?

In any case, it looks like @QantasAirways have a lot to do and I hope that they have enough people who are smart enough to know how to put together an integrated crisis communication plan that will be implemented (and supported by management) accordingly. And perhaps, the Qantas comms/social media crew can evaluate and share how they managed later on.

How about you? Do you have any examples or advice on the best way to manage "social media #fail" moments?

Disclosure: While I'm a Qantas Frequent Flyer and Member, I don't have a personal interest in the company. I have had mixed experiences as a Qantas customer - from great to really bad. This post isn't meant to comment on my Qantas customer experience. It's primarily my way of "thinking out loud" about managing what's deemed to be a "social media fail" moment, as this is part of the risk of being a social media manager.

About the Author Shai Coggins

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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