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Qantas Airline Industrial Dispute – the Social Media Reaction

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For the first time a major brand in Australia went through a serious union strike and industrial conflict where the whole world reacted through social media. Through this article, we hope to examine the Qantas back story, the damage to the brand and the social media reaction from both the public and Qantas itself. The Back Story Whether you are living in Australia or elsewhere in the world, you were probably aware of the recent industrial dispute of Australia’s flagship airline carrier. As part of a long running labour dispute, Qantas started grounding its flights, with all flights being halted over the last weekend of October. The dispute which was developing for over 18 mont

For the first time a major brand in Australia went through a serious union strike and industrial conflict where the whole world reacted through social media. Through this article, we hope to examine the Qantas back story, the damage to the brand and the social media reaction from both the public and Qantas itself.

The Back Story

Whether you are living in Australia or elsewhere in the world, you were probably aware of the recent industrial dispute of Australia’s flagship airline carrier.

As part of a long running labour dispute, Qantas started grounding its flights, with all flights being halted over the last weekend of October.

The dispute which was developing for over 18 months between three unions culminated in the baggage handlers and engineers going on strike requesting higher pay and job security measures. After facing the union strike at Qantas annual general board meeting on 28th of October, CEO of Qantas won support from the board for a full fleet grounding.

Subsequently, Fair Work Australia – the Labour Tribunals Relation ordered an immediate hearing and an end to the labour dispute setting a 21 day deadline to settle the issue, or face the prospect of an arbitration process.

To put things in perspective, the airline’s weekend grounding stranded more than 80,000 passengers and affected the entire economy of Australia, as the nation relies heavily on aviation to bridge the distance.  From a Qantas perspective – it is the second oldest airline in the world and according to its website travels to over 180 destinations worldwide.

The Brand

With the ongoing dispute with the tribunal, over the past months Qantas was able to appease the general public to a certain extent by blaming its flight delays and cancellations on the unions and keeping the Qantas name still in the good. However, with CEO Alan Joyce accepting a pay rise for himself and grounding the airline 24 hours later has effectively put a lid on any sympathy or loyalty the public might have been feeling towards the brand.  Now, the public views the grounding, as a cunningly strategic move on Qantas’s part to halt all flights at a time when there will be a maximum amount of damage – with the weekend upon us and the Melbourne Cup looming, there will be high percentage of travelers trying to get around the country.  This perception was even worsened after Mr Alan Joyce admitted to having received his board’s approval for the fleet’s grounding which came as a surprise to everyone else. Industrial experts argue that this move may have caused irreparable damage to the image of Qantas and even Australian tourism as a whole, as travelers will now be reluctant to visit due to mistrust in the Australian aviation industry.

Social Media

With disgruntled travelers turning to Twitter to express their anger, many stalked the wrong Twitter account. California based Alan Joyce was a target of a barrage of tweets complaining about the airline’s grounding.

Desperate travelers were turning to Twitter to complain about their plight or trying to get any information, created a flurry of tweets – with “Alan Joyce”, “Qantas” and “Anthony Albanese” trending worldwide having over a thousand tweets per minute.  Analysts and social media experts have noted that with Australia having only two million Twitter users, this is extremely remarkable.

This social media storm also led to many fake Twitter accounts cropping up to capitalise on the crisis.

Close analysis of Twitter messages shows that a majority of the public is not sympathetic to the airline and this could mean long term damage to the Qantas brand.

Fig 1 :  Analysis on Qantas Twitter Reaction, http://blog.thmcmahon.com/2011/graph-negative-reaction-on-twitter-to-qantas-lockout/

Further damaging the brand was how Qantas handled the crisis using its social media presence with many complaining that Qantas’s response as “mechanical” and “impersonal”.

But the question to ask here is would any kind of response have been enough? What kind of response is a good one in this particular instance?

This all goes back to a company’s social media strategy and the contingency plans that have been clearly laid out for staff to handle crisis situations via social media. Staff members who reply via Qantas’s Twitter account probably do not have the authority nor the full information disclosure to reply to customer complaints during such situations – they too are doing what they are being told by senior management and a standard set of tweets were probably already drafted to “diplomatically” handle the situation.

In conclusion, early insight into the debacle shows that the public is still not blaming Qantas outright but this could all change after the outcome of the talks and how the airline projects itself in the long run.  This crisis is a good lesson for large and small organisations to build in contingency plans into their social media strategies, to deal with emergency situations and mitigate any immediate damage to the brand. People will be prone to feel more sympathetic and more loyal to the brand if they feel a “human face” is being shown via the social media channels instead of pre-concocted set of answers.

If you would like to leave a comment, ask a question or arrange a one-to-one consultation contact me on logan@logannathan.com or via only of my social media channels using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus.

About Logan Nathan

Social Media Business Consultant | Internet (Web) Marketing Strategist Speaker | Trainer

Based in Sydney, Australia, Logan has been an avid & passionate social media user since the advent of Facebook. Logan runs his own workshops on the social media for business in Australia. He has also written a number of eBooks on the same subjects (Social Media Secrets for your Business, Twitter Secrets for Your Business and Social Media Startup Guide for Business), all of which are now published and available online. Logan is also a passionate speaker on the subject of using ‘Internet and Social Media for Business’ and spoken at number of Business conferences in Australia and overseas.

Watch testimonials from Logan’s latest workshops on http://www.youtube.com/logannathan

Book your seat at the upcoming workshops, refer http://www.socialmediaforbusiness.com.au/register-for-social-media-training/index.php