There’s only one thing worse than being spoken about negatively, and that’s not being spoken about at all. We all know the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” and this certainly rings true when it comes to how airlines manage their social media activity.

It seems that not a few days will go by without a maelstrom resulting from a poorly worded Tweet, a questionable post sent at the wrong time, or even some accidental pornography. Yes, pornography. But perhaps surprisingly, it appears that sentiment toward airlines who tweet regularly—no matter how controversially—is generally more positive than toward those who keep out of the firing line by keeping quiet.

US Airways recently found themselves right in the centre of a twitstorm when they posted an obscene photo (they’d tried to flag it as inappropriate and inadvertently posted it to their timeline) that stayed visible under their brand for almost an hour. Before long, their followers—at that point pushing nearly 450,000—had retweeted and copied the image thousands of times, causing what many would have thought to be irreparable damage to their social cred and reputation generally.

The team behind the social accounts quickly owned up: “it was an honest mistake,” their spokesperson said. By admitting they’d made a human error, rather than quietly ignoring the problem and hoping it would die down, as so many companies (and individuals!) tend to do, they actually turned the situation on its head and ended up receiving a lot of positive buzz around the story.

At Brandwatch, we delved into this subject in our Travel and Hospitality Report and after analyzing a ton of data we found that socially active airlines generally garner a much more positive reputation than those that are less active. While it’s obvious that a traveler’s customer service experience is not solely dependent upon an airline’s Twitter activity, the distinct trend between the two definitely alludes to a meaningful correlation that emphasizes the benefits of being active and keeping on top of their social media accounts.

Interestingly, looking at our data, we can see that the airlines whose social accounts lay dormant are the airlines with the least positive sentiment surrounding them—while Emirates is a highly regarded airline (winning the 2013 Skytrax World’s Best Airline award), their silent Twitter account threatens their reputation.

As reported in our Social Listening and Financial Services paper, at least 80% of customers who submit a query to a brand via social media expect a response on the very same day. Around half expect a brand response within two hours, and a not to be sniffed at 30% of Twitter users and 25% of Facebook users expect some kind of acknowledgement in under 30 minutes. It’s easy to see when looking at those numbers why airlines such as Emirates and AirTran, who have 30,000 and 15,000 followers respectively but leave their accounts silent, are getting so much flak.

The added impact of having an online social presence is that effectively communicated with and cared for customers are far more likely to recommend the airline—even if the brand simply responds with a note saying that they are unable to help.

Savvy airlines are using social media to connect with the public, effectively handle crises and build a strong customer base and positive sentiment. Not only that, but airlines can use insights gleaned from social data to understand and adapt accordingly to their customers’ concerns, be them suggesting changes to the on-board meal offerings or thoughts on how to improve the online booking process. Maybe it’s time that Emirates got brave, dusted off that Twitter account and started typing.