Corporate Transparency as an Aid in Crisis Communication

In March 2012, a Vegas-bound JetBlue flight had to be emergency landed in Texas after one of the plane’s pilots began acting erratically and screaming abut al-Qaeda, Iran, and Afghanistan while the plane was in flight.  The pilot was locked out of the cabin by his co-pilot during the incident, causing a scene that led several passengers to restrain him until the plane had emergency landed.  Coverage of this incident was widespread across both local and national news channels, and JetBlue was forced to act quickly and address the situation in order to prevent damage to their reputation.

Results of a survey released in April 2011 by the Canadian Investor Relations Institute (CIRI) and PR giant Fleishman-Hillard found that “the biggest mistake companies make during a corporate or operational crisis is a lack of communication and transparency” and stated “few companies have a crisis plan in place that incorporates social media protocols.”  This point is perfectly illustrated in the fact that JetBlue created their Twitter page on March 28, 2012 – the day after the incident occurred.  This seems to suggest that the company did not have a social media strategy in place that would be capable of addressing a sudden crisis immediately and effectively.

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger appeared on The Today Show in an interview with Matt Lauer the following morning in order to address the incident.  Lauer begins to press Barger for more information surrounding the pilot’s reputation around the 1:08 mark, asking if this behavior could have been predicted.  Barger immediately changes the subject and begins praising the “follow up of the crew, and then the customers” to bring the attention back to JetBlue’s effective handling of the situation.

In addition to the JetBlue figurehead’s appearance on NBC, the company also took to their blog, BlueTales, to address the situation and provided three “updates” on the situation throughout the day it occurred.  The blog allowed users to post comments, providing a method of feedback consumers as well as a way to bring public opinion on the crisis to light.

As this example illustrates, corporate transparency is an invaluable tool when addressing a company’s crisis.  JetBlue didn’t seem to have all of its “social media” ducks in a row prior to the incident, but by utilizing Twitter, TV appearances, and BlueTales to provide situational updates to customers, they were able to address the crisis both quickly and effectively.

By: Claudia Pitarque

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