Crisis Management

12 Lessons From Buffett, Sprinklr And The US Airways Mistweet

Last week, the social media world had a field day. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of the US Airways story that made headlines, and lessons we could all reflect upon.

Customers may expect  a “fast” response but take the time you need to respond

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We chose here not to show even a blurry glimpse of the lewd very NSFW photo that got shared over 476 times before it was eventually taken down, nearly an hour later, as satirical comments started pouring in.

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According to The Social Habit, 42% of consumers who complain on social media expect a response within 60 minutes. 32% expect a response within 30 minutes.

US Airways handles nearly 400 reply tweets per day with an average response time of 38 minutes (source: — well within the “expected” stats.

Spending just a few extra seconds to review the tweet/link could have avoided this horrible scandal. Could the pressure to keep up with customer expectations be part of the problem?

Not all press is good press or is it?

US Airways boasts a high Klout score of 89 and over 430K followers. This kind reach and influence is generally a good thing, until the worst possible tweet happens.

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@Running_Cloud may be right. According to Twittercounter, the airline saw a boost of over 14,000 new followers since the incident, a 3.4% net increase.

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Sentiments, on the other hand, are another story.

According to General Sentiment, a company that analyzes more than 60  million sources of content every day to provide sentiment insight on brands and products, the infamous tweet generated more than $9 million in negative media in just two days.

How you handle “mistakes” is often more important than what happened

Shortly after, US Airways issued a press statement and tweeted a sincere apology that became the company’s new top tweet, shared over 14,341 times (according to

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Unfortunately the original graphic tweet still lives on the company’s Klout page, and hopefully they will figure out a way to remove it.

Don’t be afraid to show your “human” side and others will sympathize

Many of us jumped to assume the employee behind the infamous tweet would be fired. I was one of those people. After all, less than six months ago, we witnessed Home Depot terminate the individual and agency that sent an offensive tweet. And this was a lot worse.

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For US Airways, however, this was an “honest mistake”, and it had no plans to fire the individual.

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According to the airline’s spokesperson, the lewd photo was attached “inadvertently” in an effort to flag an inappropriate tweet.

Needless to say, the company will be reviewing its social media processes.

By being transparent, and taking full accountability for the crisis, rather than simply blaming its staff, the airline company demonstrated a high degree of integrity that revamped some of the initial sentiments.

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US Airways was just like the rest of us; it was only human.

Things will happen, so keep an open mind

Could this have happened to the rest of us? Absolutely.

Many companies are still reluctant to dive into social media, mainly because of the fear of losing control – surely, this would now become their worst nightmare.

But what about the fear of missing out?  It is our job as digital marketers to continuously educate so-called “social media skeptics” on the facts, risks and rewards in the same way we empower our clients with the confidence and knowledge they need to navigate the ever changing “social web”.

Be thankful for having “less baggage”

SMBs operate very differently from large enterprises such as US Airways. Fewer resources often mean smaller teams and leaner systems. As a result, they are more nimble and better equipped to monitor flaws and steer more swiftly in case of a storm.

We may not be celebrities, but our reputations still matter

If an unheard of SMB made this very same “mistake”, would it have made headlines? Probably not.

Think about celebrities whose lives are forever scrutinized both on and offline. How is US Airways feeling right now?

Lucky for the rest of us, we don’t have to put up with this level of attention — but our reputations still matter.

After all, that’s all we got in the eyes of our communities.

Failing to plan is like planning to fail

While no tool, system or human is ever 100% error proof, you can be better equipped as a business owner to avoid mistakes and learn to handle them more efficiently and gracefully:

1.  Invest in employee training

Today’s community managers need such an array of skills that no one course or certification can possibly cover.

It’s about constantly learning and adapting to an ever changing world.

So, how do you develop a culture of learning?

A great place to start is to have a chat with your social media team about the US Airways crisis:

  • What are their thoughts on what happened?
  • Do they feel challenged in their current position? If so where?
  • How are they keeping up with the latest trends?

Then, work together to develop a “training and development plan” that can include a combination of:

  • Courses and certifications: A number of colleges and companies such as Hootsuite University offer affordable courses and certification programs. Also, check out leading social media experts such as Mari Smith for online training programs and free webinars.
  • Conferences are a perfect opportunity for your team to network and keep up with the latest trends from the world’s top experts. Keep an eye out for Mashable’s list of events, and consider attending the upcoming Social Media Camp in BC, Canada.
  • Coaching: A social media coach can empower your team with valuable strategic advice and “hands on” practice, as well as conduct an audit of your activities to help you spot inefficiencies, improve systems, and achieve better results.

2. Set-up a social media crisis plan

In the uncertain world of social media, such a plan can help you think through steps to undertake when things go wrong: Who is responsible for what? Whom to call? What to do?

Global digital agency We Are Social has a good slideshare presentation that you can use as a starting point to brainstorm some key topics with your team.

Seek the help of an experienced social media consultant if you need further assistance in drafting such a document. You will be thankful for the investment.

3. Get the tools that are right for you

We can’t help it but wonder: Could US Airways’ proprietary social media software (SNAP 100) have somehow prevented the wrong photo to be attached to the customer reply?

“This tweet could have (and should have) been easily prevented with the right software and processes in place,” says Colin Burns, Client Success Director for Sprinklr , a global enterprise Social Relationship Platform whose clients include Air Canada and Virgin America, in a recent blog post.

“Clear approval paths, a controlled content library, and automated alerts would have stopped this crisis before it began. Unfortunately, not every organization has the right infrastructure to manage experience at every touch point. Brands that lack these capabilities are playing the social media crisis lottery – U.S. Airways’ number just happened to come up.”

SMBs have their own unique needs and challenges, but the good news is there are plenty of options: HootSuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social to name a few.

Having trouble deciding? Most products offer a free trial version that you can fully explore while figuring out what works for your team. 

Got questions? Send the platform a tweet! This will give you a glimpse into their style and response time. But keep your expectations realistic!

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Times may have changed, but Warren Buffett was right all along

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Lots to think about? None said social media was easy. We have the perception that it is, perhaps because it is all so accessible. It is events such as this that remind us just how much damage 140 characters can do. But you also can’t let this inhibit you from a sea of opportunities. And, you really have no choice. If you don’t dive in, your competitors will. Just remember: if you invest in the right team, tools and systems, the sky is the limit!

What did you think about the whole scandal and how it was handled? Let us know in the comments!

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