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Brad’s Wife taught us why social media management is important to your business. This week, United Airlines is illustrating why public relations management matters.

Over the weekend, they had a customer service incident that was videotaped and went viral.  What did or didn’t happen during that event doesn’t matter to me as much as how United responded to the public relations crisis.  Because a crisis it was – people were losing their minds on social media, and every national news organization picked up the story.

As we recently learned with the United Airlines leggings crisis, the company has a history of not responding quickly or effectively when negative topics start trending on social media.  It appears that they continue to ignore the power that social media has in today’s economy.

It wasn’t until after national news coverage that  CEO Oscar Munoz responded to the crisis.  Voted U.S. Communicator of the Year by PR Week, he did not make it better.  His first response, reeked of insincerity, accepted no blame, and offered no promises to fix a broken situation.  He doubled down on this narrative in his second response and blamed the passenger on the flight.

For a large organization, that surely has in-house public relations staff, it took Munoz until the third try to get the statement right by showing empathy, accepting blame, and promising to rectify their policies and procedures. It was unfortunately too late. United endured a global outcry, backlash, and falling stock prices that cost the company close to $1 billion dollars.

Obviously, it hasn’t been a great week for United Airlines.  This, is however, a great reminder for the rest of us to take stock of how we are handling our own public relations.

Here are some great questions to ask yourself:

  • Who manages our public relations?
  • Do we have a public relations strategy?
  • Is this a part of our marketing plan?
  • Do we have a PR crisis management plan?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, or don’t like the answers you came up with, maybe it’s time to bring in some professionals.  I may know a few.