United Airlines and the Firestorm of Social Media
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

For a Christian leader, the recent blow-up at United Airlines should be a teaching moment on the power of social media. You no doubt heard the story about an overbooked flight, and the passenger (who had paid for his ticket and was already seated on the plane) who was physically ejected for another passenger. Right or wrong, the incident was recorded on video and it quickly became the top story in the media. By the next morning, the social media memes had been launched:

Any organization of any size can experience that kind of nightmare, and social media amplifies it for the world to see. CNN reported that in less than 48 hours, United lost more than $250 million in value. So if you’re a leader, here’s what to remember in today’s digital, text message, and social media world:

1) Whatever mistake you or your organization makes, assume it will be videotaped. There are simply too many phones these days to avoid it (in America there are now more phones than people), and there are few things more damaging than seeing the incident on video. Expect it, and always think about that before you get angry, upset, or do something you’ll regret later

2) The social media firestorm happens quickly. A few years ago I helped a church deal with the media aftermath of a pastor who had fallen from grace (to put it mildly.) When the Executive Pastor called me for advice, the pastor had just confessed to the elder board seconds before, so nobody else knew. But at the end of the call, I did a Google search just to see if anything had been leaked. To my surprise, the entire story was on the home page of a website on the other side of the country. In a digital world, word travels fast.

3) Social media critics are brutal. Before United had their day in court, or even a chance to tell their side of the story, they were overwhelmed by the critics. But as you’ve seen in these memes, the critics don’t care. They’ve made up their mind and start unleashing their venom on social media. Funny or not, it’s damaging, and can cause some otherwise good companies and organizations to collapse.

4) Finally, have a reaction plan in place. Today we live in a world where a housewife in Tulsa can bring down a major company simply through the momentum of social media. That’s why your church, ministry, nonprofit, or business needs a strategy for defense when something happens. How do you respond? Who’s the spokesperson? What should we say or not say? All those questions and more should be dealt with now, so when something happens, you’re ready

Ad by the way – note I didn’t say “IF” something happens, I said “WHEN” something happens. In today’s transparent world, sooner or later, right or wrong, innocent or not, a mistake will be made.

Will your organization be ready?


Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.

Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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