Crisis media management: Misjudged response triggers social media storm

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Misjudged response triggers social media storm

How would you respond if a photo which could be potentially damaging to your organisation was posted on social media?

Would you request the picture was taken down?

Well, that was the action taken by one organisation yesterday (6/8) and it turned a negative tweet into a social media crisis.

It happened when an easyJet customer posted a picture of someone sitting on a supposedly backless chair during a flight he was taking to Geneva.

The poster, Matthew Harris, quipped “easyjet beats Ryanair to have backless seats.” 



The low-cost airline responded by saying “thanks for bringing this to our attention, before we can investigate this could I ask you to remove the photograph & then DM us more info regarding this, so we can best assist you.”



That response caused social media outrage with users slamming the airline and others going out of their way to share the picture it was so keen to see removed. The company was trending on Twitter for much of the day.



It also propelled the story into the mainstream media.


easyJet passengers sit on backless seats – as airline asks for viral snap to be taken down Mirror

Sit back, don’t relax! Easyjet passenger pictures sitting on seat with NO BACK – before airline tries to get snap removed from Twitter The Sun

Easyjet caught up in Twitter storm over backless seats claims City AM

Easyjet passenger pictured sitting on seat with no back Evening Standard


The airline subsequently issued a statement, around two hours after the tweet – far too long in a crisis media management situation - which said that “no passengers were permitted to sit in these seats as they were inoperative awaiting repair.”

The suggestion is that the photo was staged or at least misleading.

But by that point, its initial handling of the situation had already turned a non-story into a damaging crisis media management situation.

Sure, it probably felt it was being unfairly criticised, but Its initial tweet sounded like a desperate attempt to try to hide or bury negative news. It sounds like a form of censorship where the main concern is the photo and the damage it might cause.

The suggestion that the photo needs to be removed before the incident can be investigated is poorly worded and has a bullying, controlling tone.

At the very least it should have explained why the photograph should be removed, perhaps citing the privacy of the other passengers included in the image.

It’s obviously easier when you are not in the firing line, but a better approach would have been to say: “Thanks for bringing this to our attention – we are urgently looking into exactly what has happened here.  I will DM you to gain some more information.”

This type of response, which could pretty much be drawn up in advance of a crisis, would show the airline is taking action and may succeed in moving the conversation offline.

Clearly, easyJet was concerned about the spread of ‘fake news’, but its response only succeeded in fanning the flames.

When a social media crisis strikes you need to be able to respond quickly, but you also need to remember how far your response could travel. Perhaps a little more thought, and maybe asking a colleague for their thoughts before posting could have saved the airline a lot of turbulence. 

A quick and dirty guide to managing a social media crisis


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our highly practical crisis communication and social media training courses.


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