Dear Brands: We're All Publishers Now -- So Behave, Or Else

You couldn't make it up. United Airlines has, as Millennials say, "broken the internet" again. Just a month after it banned a young girl from boarding a plane because she was wearing leggings, along comes video of a bloodied passenger being manhandled and dragged off one its domestic flights.

The lesson for brands is that everything is now televised. Every decision your staff makes, every interaction or decision and its consequences will be recorded and played back on social media to a global audience. United's response to learning this lesson? The head of the airline, Oscar Munoz, claimed to be "upset" by what happened, but cautioned that the paying passenger being ejected from the flight due to the airline's overbooking error was "disruptive and belligerent."

It brings back into sharp focus the CIM research that I have already linked to in a previous London Blog. The central challenge is that nearly nine in ten realise that with the rise of social media and everyone turning into a news reporter, brands need to be seen to acting ethically. The rub comes with responsibility. Much of what can drag a brand name through the mire is not under the control of marketing. Its staff at a well-known pizza chain making someone's dinner in a very unhygienic manner and then sharing it on social, it's a flight attendant barring a girl from a flight over leggings or instructing security to drag a bloodied passenger down the aisle and off their plane. 

Hence, nine in ten realise an ethical brand image is crucial, but 70% claim they need more of a voice throughout the organisation to guard against it happening. More than nine in ten -- 95% -- claim it's crucial that marketing gets more influence across the brand to guard against exactly what just about everyone on the internet has viewed over the past 24 hours. And it's not just your brand's own actions. Just imagine what its Star Alliance partner airlines -- including Swiss, Lufthansa, SAS and TAP Portugal -- are making of recent events at United. Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it? Fancy a code share or using your air miles with the airline that drags semi-unconscious, fee-paying passengers down the aisle?

It was only a few years ago that a group of journalists and I were on an overbooked Virgin Atlantic flight to New York. There were no restraints, no police officers dragging us off the plane. A simple offer of an upgrade to the Upper Cabin, a bunch of air miles and an apology for the inconvenience was enough. Similarly, the only other time I'd been bumped from a flight, an upgrade, accommodation and air miles made the indignation seem a lot more acceptable. It seems very odd to me, a failing even, that this issue wasn't spotted sooner and passengers tempted away from boarding so security wasn't required to drag a man out of his seat.

Then, once on the flight, if you offer $800 each for four people to disembark and nobody puts their hand up, it might tell you more about the number you've just offered than the passengers who refused it. Make it a round thousand and I bet some hands would have gone up. Compare the cost of raising the offer, an extra $200 for four people, against the cost of the crew missing their ticket to their next flight, which would likely then have had to be cancelled. It doesn't even compare, does it?

More importantly, compare the cost to United's brand image, and a few hundred extra bucks looks like chicken feed. The Drum quotes experts this morning claiming the brand damage could run in to a six- or even seven-figure sum in terms of lost bookings and crisis PR management.

It is becoming a cliche, but it's worth mentioning each time an episode like this happens. Everyone is now a publisher. Period.

Whether it's the brave face of a Birmingham lady of Asian heritage standing up to an English Defence League yob, a cop acting badly or a passenger being ejected from a flight, nearly every action that a brand's people perform will be caught on camera. If this is not part of your training regime, then marketing needs to step up to the plate to ensure that it is.

Another golden opportunity awaits here for marketing to demonstrate how its influence and counsel is needed throughout the organisation, not just within its own four walls. 

1 comment about "Dear Brands: We're All Publishers Now -- So Behave, Or Else".
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  1. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave, April 12, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    Love it, and you're right, and the balance was definitely not right here, was it. There's also that great similar story of the guy asking the girl to stay the night with him for a dollar, and she says no, so he raised it to a million. "What kind of girl do you think I am," she is supposed to reply. To which he answers. "We've established that, we're just haggling over the price!"

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