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The United Airlines incident could teach a valuable lesson about social media strategy




United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz delivers remarks Thursday, June 2, 2016, in New York, during a presentation of the carrier's new Polaris service, a new business class product that will become available on trans-Atlantic flights. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz delivers remarks Thursday, June 2, 2016, in New York, during a presentation of the carrier's new Polaris service, a new business class product that will become available on trans-Atlantic flights. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew/AP

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A man was forcibly removed from a United Airlines plane at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on Monday, and the troubling footage taken by several passengers has since gone viral. 

The company says the flight was overbooked. The man was told he'd have to get off the aircraft. When he refused, the airline called the police. A struggle ensued.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz3EDgJu8Zk

Reaction online was swift and overwhelmingly negative. On Tuesday morning, the markets responded to waning consumer sentiment. 

Outrage has become a staple of our online, social media-connected world. Pure, digital ire is changing a lot: including the way companies do business. 

Juntae Delane is the founder of DigitalBrandingInstitute.com.

He talked about it with KPCC's Take Two.

Highlights

Yesterday's incident is under investigation, and I want to be sensitive to those involved. But online this morning the hashtag "New United Airlines Mottos" is trending. If you click it, there's a deluge of tweets, memes, and videos. People are mad, and it's public. It's almost as if social media is rebranding United Airlines.

Yeah, absolutely. It's not surprising that people are taking to social media, in particular for this industry. Anytime you have any negative occurrence with an airline; consumers are used to taking it out on social media and expecting some response. 

This new "motto" hashtag that's been trending on Twitter is something that's not surprising. It's bringing in other people's voices and expressing their discomfort with what they saw. 

It's changing the way we express outrage. Before we'd maybe send a letter to some department head at United Airlines, but now we can just put it out there and everyone shares our disgust. 

Consumers are really trying to expose the injustices of these major organizations and I really attribute that to the Occupy Wall Street movement, about 10 years ago after the housing crisis. If you were a corporation, the word "corporation" had a negative connotation because people began to distrust corporations. 

As social media started to become more prevalent, people started to take their voices to that platform. It goes back to what we saw in the political landscape, police brutality, all these hashtags about boycotting organizations. Now it's really impacting their bottom lines. It's time to take a serious look at how they're operating. 

People will remember this video. They'll remember the memes. The mottos. How do companies even grasp something that's gotten this big this fast?

I think the most important thing is to address it immediately. If you do not address it in a timely fashion, then social media could start a firestorm. 

For organizations who are silent during times like this, then people make up their own assumptions and they're able to build more content on those assumptions which can really be detrimental to your brand. 

If United called and said, 'Mr. Delane, we need help,' what would you recommend right now? 

Wow. That's a good question. First thing's first ... I would reissue a statement on behalf of the CEO recognizing the re-accommodation word being used out of context. I'm sure he didn't mean to associate re-accommodation with what was seen on the video. 

And I would also work at really explaining the story behind the ins and outs ... what happens behind the scenes for United so that people can get a closer glimpse at why these policies were developed.

At the end of the day, what they saw didn't look right. But if they understand the policies behind it and everyone on behalf of United apologizes for any negative impact this had on consumers, then ultimately it will be a step in the right direction.

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview. 

(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)