Qantas Shows How Not to Do Social Media

One of the prerequisites of effective marketing -- or really, any strategic activity -- is that the company’s left hand should know what its right hand is doing: any effort which isn’t coordinated with other disciplines and day-to-day operations risks being a wasted effort or, worse, making the company look frivolous, insensitive, or just plain ol’ incompetent.

Qantas, Australia’s iconic airline, has illustrated this in exemplary fashion with a Twitter campaign which invited the public to heap praise on the airline’s luxury offerings in their Tweets: “Tell us what is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include the hashtag QantasLuxury.” The winning flattery would be rewarded with prizes including Qantas pajamas and a “luxury amenity kit.”

There are a couple points about the Qantas campaign which invite criticism, including the (debatable) advisability of luxury branding during an economic downturn, the appearance of poor taste in inviting consumers to tell you how great you are, and the paltry prizes for doing so, which one social media commentator described as “asinine.”

But the main error -- indeed, catastrophic failing -- of the campaign was that it came less than a month after a union strike which Qantas management countered with a total shutdown of the company, grounding flights and hugely inconveniencing thousands of customers who had to re-book on competing airlines.

As rivals like Virgin Australia swooped in to pick up Qantas’ business, analysts pondered whether Qantas would ever be able to recover from the strike and the high-handed management response; marketers and brand experts agreed that it would take a long time to win back the public’s trust -- not to mention some fancy PR footwork, probably including advertising addressing the disruption and highlighting the airline’s renewed commitment to reliability.

However the public has yet to see any of these subtle, difficult-to-craft messages, which probably haven’t even been produced yet; instead (a day after management-union talks fell apart again) they were invited to tweet about how awesome Qantas is.  

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