Don’t take pleasure in a competitor’s PR crisis: here’s why

Delta-Coulter-PR-CrisisTwitter feeds were buzzing across the world this month as a professional provocateur and a well-known airline did battle over…a seat.

@AnnCoulter had pre-booked a seat on her flight, paying an additional $30 for the privilege but once boarded, found that @Delta had reassigned it to someone else - upsetting someone with 1.6m Twitter followers in the process. Yes, you can guess it wasn’t plain-sailing from there onwards.

@AnnCoulter tweeted ‘Just when you think it’s safe to fly them again, the worst airline in America is STILL: @Delta’, then went on to send a flurry of negative tweets, including one that described the customer who got her seat as a ‘dachshund-legged woman’ and insulting staff saying ‘.@Delta employee questionnaire: What is your ideal job: Prison guard? Animal handler? Stasi policeman? All of the above: HIRED!

Delta responded by trying to contact Coulter privately, followed by a public Twitter apology and the offer of a refund – an approach most would say was textbook crisis management. They went on to defend their staff – ‘Additionally, your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary’. But alas that wasn’t going to stop @AnnCoulter.

The Risk Ripple effect

The Twitter battle raged for two days, creating a media storm across America. While this was happening we started seeing lots of other Delta stories coming out – old news that was thought to be long forgotten – like the dog that was ‘held hostage’ at a Guatemalan airport.

What’s interesting is that it didn’t stop there. Suddenly any airline story was newsworthy. Such as the giant rabbit that was found dead after flying with United.

One issue on social media rarely stays that way. Once a PR crisis has hit the ripples spread – back in time to old crises and wider afield to anyone else related to that industry.

How to respond

Rather than smirk at a competitor’s misfortune (no matter how tempting that may be!) when one issue hits, it’s time to make sure your own reputation is safe. Time is the big differentiator here – the faster you can spot a problem, the faster you can deal with it.

Wise airline brands will have seen Coulter’s first tweet and quickly prepared their own iron-clad response. They would have pre-written a counteracting tweet, got their legal teams checking their reallocation policies, their PR team proactively engaging press, and their social media moderation teams bolstered to catch any fall-out coming their way in minutes.

The really wise brands would also have recognized that damage control is not limited to working hours alone, but also weekends (as this one was) and even the middle of the night. Ask yourself this question – if a crisis hit at 2am on a Sunday would you still be ready to launch your brand’s crisis management plans?

In today’s 24/7 world it’s clear that 24/7 monitoring and 24/7 alerts for major risks are the best way to protect your brand. These risks may not happen often (well, maybe they do for airlines) but when they do, they hit and hit hard.

So when your competitor is having a PR crisis, don’t take pleasure in it; take action.


To ensure your social media risk strategy is up-to-scratch, download this free Social Media Moderation Toolkit which contains an essential guide to social media moderation, a risk checklist and a guide to the five mistakes people make that can destroy their social media results.