Lessons from the #QantasLuxury social media disaster

FRANk Media - Qantas fail whale

Yesterday Twitter was full of sarcastic, snide digs at Qantas Airlines’ newly launched social media campaign. The airline’s Twitter competition asked users to tweet what their dream luxury inflight experience was, with the hashtag #QantasLuxury. The prize was a gift pack of Qantas pajamas and a toiletries kit.

Within an hour, the hashtag was trending across the country as Twitter users hijacked the competition to attack Qantas on various fronts, including the grounding of flights, chief executive Alan Joyce’s salary, to Qantas’ treatment of its pilots.

“#QantasLuxury – when the passengers arrive before the couriers delivering the lockout notices do”
“#QantasLuxury is knowing a $30 prize pack probably won’t buy off the Australian public”
“#QantasLuxury is a Sydney-Melbourne flight via the new hub in Shanghai.”
“#QantasLuxury is Qantas PR deploying the slides and life boats from their office to escape their Twitter disaster.”
“#QantasLuxury is being able to pay lawyers for 1000 words of T&Cs for a competition for pyjamas when your business is running an airline.”
“#QantasLuxury Being in charge of Virgin Australia PR and knowing that Qantas is doing your job for you.”
“#qantasluxury means paying millions for CEO, grounding, freebies and advertising but unable to afford a small staff pay rise.”
“#QantasLuxury When your luggage gets more frequent flyers than you do! @QantasAirways.”
“#QantasLuxury is ensuring you’re put up in a nice hotel when your plane is arbitrarily grounded.”

The backlash has even extended to a parody video:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTCwPlWzZnQ&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

And it’s no wonder why PR experts have called it the biggest PR fail in Australia.

Only a few weeks ago, Qantas angered customers by grounding its entire fleet and leaving 80,000 passengers stranded in airports just weeks ago. In fact, thousands of furious passengers in major cities around the world vowed to never fly with Qantas again. It’s also surprising that this could happen after Qantas recently set up a four-person dedicated social media unit to better attend to the conversations about their brand.

We really wonder whose idea was it to invite people to share their feedback on Qantas’ flight when customers are still feeling so sore about their harrowing experiences.

But there are several lessons to be learned here. A social media disaster by one brand doesn’t mean that everyone needs to now be afraid of it.

Be sensitive to your customers

A key point of social media is to listen to your customers – what are people saying about your brand? It’s doubtful that Qantas was enjoying much positive sentiment on social networks. It was incredibly poor timing for a social media campaign encouraging any sort of celebration of the brand. Qantas’ fail here clearly demonstrates what happens when a brand is blind to how customers are feeling and runs a competition seeking praise – the public will quickly turn on you.

Be aware of how social media users behave

The messages you send out are being seen by everyone and everyone has the opportunity and the right to instantly fire back their comments – and they may not care for self-censorship. In fact, the more ferocious and catty someone can be, the more attention a comment will receive. Twitter users want to gain influence and the more outrageous a tweet, the more retweets it receives. Twitter users, bloggers and news sites are all gunning for eyeballs on sensationalist stories.

You get what you put into social media

Despite hiring a team for its social media efforts, it’s clear that Qantas engaged some inexperienced community managers to head their social media efforts. Running public promotion when the brand reputation is so badly battered is already a marketing no-no. Customer sentiment does not change overnight, and improving brand reputation should involve addressing the most pressing issues first – such as actively assuring customers of service quality. Running a competition with measly prizes is another opportunity for people to jab at – we’re guessing pajamas and toothbrushes aren’t too high on angry customers’ wishlists.

As Hitler says on the #QantasLuxury Downfall parody: “With any luck someone will post a new funny cat video”, otherwise he will “ground the whole internet”. We hope Qantas will be able to recover from this with the right damage control.

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