Malaysia Airlines: Which Top 3 Social Media Crisis Communications Goals Should a Company Adopt?

By: Sofie De Beule

March 27, 2014


A massive social media storm of speculation has swept the globe in response to the way Malaysia Airlines handled the immensely delicate situation. For two weeks now, all eyes have been on Malaysia Airlines after flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing disappeared on Saturday, March 8th. Two days ago, before the press got their hands on the news, the airline company informed relatives of the deceased, via an insensitive text, that the plane had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean with no chance of survivors.

Since the news of the vanishing plane, Malaysia Airlines has been under attack for its confusing social media approach. Across numerous blogs, news sites, and social media channels, the situation has left no one untouched. Many say Malaysia Airlines will have a hard time recovering from the situation.

But, how can companies correctly handle this type of crisis in the social customer space?

When it Comes to Social Crisis Communications, Public Opinion is Merciless

In this particular situation, the difficulty lies in handling very delicate emotions with more than 200 people missing, and the lack of knowledge surrounding the plane’s whereabouts only adds insult to injury. With the transparency of social media, there’s absolutely no mercy for companies anymore. While Malaysia Airlines claimed to have hired the best experts in crisis communications, even the best specialists in the world would find any similar situation “challenging” leaving opinions divided on how to handle this type of extended crisis.

However, there is no scenario too complicated that it cannot be handled with a clear and prepared plan. While many strategies focus on pre-written news releases and thorough media counseling, the importance lies in the proper training of a committed crisis management team. Although companies need to care about the human story first, don’t neglect the storm of social media messages along the way, and make sure your social media team is fully empowered.

Which social media crisis communications goals should every company adopt to fall back on in any scenario?

Goal 1: Take Full Control of the Situation

It’s important to always assume complete control and leadership of the situation. Therefore, it’s important to work closely with your risk management team to easily identify the risks of any situation and provide clear answers to it. The first 48 hours are the most critical in a crisis because they put the organization’s capability of crisis management to the test and reveal how the public opinion unfolds.

Goal 2: Proactively Communicate on Your Social Channels

In a digital age, it’s important to immediately communicate with your public. Whether it’s through Twitter, press statements, updates, etc., make sure you take a firm stand on the situation or your messages will be too impersonal. If your story has already been told by the press and on social media, it’s too late, and public opinion of the situation will already have been decided.

Crises similar to the Malaysia Airlines plane crash will no doubt be fully documented on social media. Nowadays, even the smallest bad plane landings are caught on smartphones and published or live-tweeted just seconds after the events took place. Make sure your company is on top of things, and don’t loose track of your priorities.

Goal 3: Continuously Adapt Your Social Media Crisis Plan

As social media changes extremely quickly, your crisis plan will grow with it. This is actually a matter of continuous testing and evaluating. Take on a proactive approach, and empower the right people with responsibilities. In order for your social media plan to really become successful, elaborate coordination will determine whether your social media team will handle the situation correctly.

Needless to say, few crises are rarely resolved within hours, so make sure your emergency responses are designed for time periods of weeks and even months. Malaysia Airlines clearly didn’t consider a backup plan for a situation dragging on like this. The power of social media for monitoring will allow you to take action properly. However, if you don’t have an appropriate plan to fall back on, your company will probably never recover from it. So, make sure your social footprint counts!