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The Good, The Bad and Air Canada Breaks Wheelchairs

Those that follow social media on a regular basis know that it doesn’t take long for news to spread online.  Unfortunately, it seems as though bad news is much quicker to spread than good news.  And, this latest story, involving Canada’s largest airline Air Canada, is yet another example of how NOT to approach a social media crisis management situation.

Tutus For Tanner Story

For those of you that are not familiar with the Tutus for Tanner story, here’s a brief summary.  A 10 year old boy, Tanner Bawn, who is fighting a terminal illness was traveling to New York City this past Wednesday to live out one of his final wishes. But during his travels, his motorized wheelchair was broken leaving him unable to move around freely.

Of course, this was devastating to Tanner and his family and I’m certain that Air Canada officials were deeply sorry for what happened.  However, what proceeded over the next 24 hours turned into a PR nightmare for Canada’s largest airline.

While Air Canada was in the process of fixing Tanner’s motorized wheelchair, they failed to properly communicate with the family and disclose this information to the public in a timely manner.  So, Tanner’s aunt, Catherine Connors (@HerBadMother) turned to Twitter to voice her displeasure with Air Canada.

What resulted was an onslaught of comments on Twitter directed at Air Canada that caused the company to take notice and react.  Now, this article is not intended to bash Air Canada.  After all, they did what they could by trying to get the motorized wheelchair fixed, but unfortunately, they didn’t do a very good job of communicating this to Tanner’s family or the public in a timely manner.

Listen to an audio interview conducted with @HerBadMother by Amber MacArthur (Trending Tech Contributor for the Globe & Mail)

Air Canada has since fixed the motorized wheelchair and has offered to send Tanner and his cousins to Disneyland to fulfill one of his dying wishes.  So, in the end, they did the right thing, but there have been many lessons learned along the way that will hopefully make Air Canada take notice of how social media impacts their business.

The Importance of Monitoring Your Brand Online

So, what lessons can be learned from this whole ordeal?  Well, first and foremost, this incident brought to light the importance of monitoring your brand online.  While Air Canada does have a presence on Twitter, it appears as though it is a mishmash of random accounts that’s main purpose is to broadcast information, similar to what you’d see in a traditional press release or email newsletter.  Here is a list of all the accounts I could find.

  • @aircanada – Inactive account that does not appear to be owned/managed by Air Canada
  • @aircanadacsp – Air Canada Customer Service Platform (400 Followers / 0 Following) – Some engagement but mostly used to update people on Air Canada mobile applications
  • @AC_webSaver – Air Canada WebSaver (5646 Followers / 51 Following) – Most active account that informs followers of flight deals on Air Canada
  • @aircanada_com – Air Canada’s “Official” Twitter account (1711 Followers / 69 Following) – Last updated on May 20, 2010
  • @AirCanada_OPS – Air Canada Travel alerts (411 Followers / 4 Following) – Last updated on May 16, 2010
  • @ACTopTier – Air Canada’s Top Tier Program account (1138 Followers / 1158 Followers) – easily the most active and engaging account that Air Canada manages.
  • @AirCanadaVac – Air Canada Vacations (2060 Followers / 213 Following)

I think it’s pretty clear that Air Canada does not have any type of strategy or policy when it comes to using Twitter as a communication tool (Aside from the ironic fact that the only account that Air Canada actively follows back their followers is on their “Top Teir Program” account). Now, there are many that would argue that in light of the “wheelchair” incident, Air Canada should completely abandon Twitter and stick to more traditional means of communication.  After all, just take a look at this comment posted on a Globe & Mail article written by Amber MacArthur:



Now, I can’t disagree that social media, and Twitter in particular, can be overwhelmingly filled with noise and may include messaging that is spread by a misinformed public.  However, that is even more reason for a company like Air Canada to engage in Twitter.  After all, by quickly responding to this incident on Twitter, Air Canada could have easily dispelled all of the myths and misinformation being spread by the Twitter community.  Air Canada was doing what they could to help Tanner during this unfortunate event, but the key point in all of this is that they did not communicate it in a timely manner.

To comment that Air Canada should completely abandon social platforms like Twitter and stick with traditional press releases is just ridiculous. Today’s connected consumer demands that information be shared in a timely manner.  And, the fact is, official press releases do not allow for this timely response and the cost of employing the manpower required to answer thousands of customer complaints via telephone far outweighs the cost of implementing an effective social media strategy.

Can Social Media Help With Crisis Management?

Here’s another comment that was left on the Globe & Mail article:

Now, one thing to note on this comment is that there were 174 people that gave this comment a “Thumbs Up” and only 17 that gave it a “Thumbs Down”.  This leads me to believe that a good chunk of the population still believes that new technologies like Twitter are still a FAD, when in fact, social media is causing a fundamental shift in the way we communicate!

If Air Canada wants to learn how to properly approach social media, they only need to look as far as their direct Canadian competitor, WestJet.  I wrote an article in November 2009 outlining “My WestJet Experience Via Twitter” which reviewed my own potentially negative experience that was quickly turned into a positive experience because of their proactive action to solve my problem in a timely manner.

My argument to the comment above would be that if someone was to comment poorly about WestJet on social media, they have a plan in place to proactively react to these potential crisis situations.  And for every 1 person that “targets WestJet with their obnoxious misinformation”, there would be 10 people that would come to the defense of WestJet or at least point that person in a direction where they could be properly informed by an official WestJet employee. This kind of loyalty and trust between WestJet and their online advocates did not happen overnight, but it is a testament to the value of actively engaging in social media and empowering a “Brandividual” to speak on behalf of a company online.

What advice would you give Air Canada following their Twitter fiasco?

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Social Media Crisis Lessons Learned

Now, the one caveat to all of this is that companies that are genuinely transparent are more ideally suited for social media. If there are holes in a companies approach to corporate culture and customer service, those weaknesses can easily be exploited in social media.  So, before jumping in with both feet, it’s important to work on fixing the internal problems first.  However, there is no excuse for not monitoring your brand on social media so you can at least react to potential crisis communication situations before they spin out of control.

Here’s a short video I found that profiles a few other prominent “Social Media Crisis” situations over the past year. It is hard to believe that some big brands have not yet grasped the impact social media can have on their bottom line. But, as with everything in life, negative experiences can easily be turned into a positive if you learn from those experiences and do everything you can to make sure it never happens again!

Stay tuned as I will be releasing an email series very soon with tips and tricks on how to properly “Monitor” your brand online.  To receive notification on this email series…..make sure to sign up for my newsletter by filling in your information in the contact form at the top right of this page.

And, let me know what you think!  What should Air Canada have done differently? What should Air Canada do going forward with regards to social media?

Trevor Turnbull is the President of T3 CONNECT Sports Marketing, COO of Sports Networker & Sports Executives Association, Contributing Writer for Entrepreneur.com, the lead Linkedin trainer for Route Three Marketing and co-producer of Zero To Money Making Website & WordPress Authorities. Connect with Trevor on Google+
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About Trevor Turnbull

Trevor Turnbull is the President of T3 CONNECT Sports Marketing, COO of Sports Networker & Sports Executives Association, Contributing Writer for Entrepreneur.com, the lead Linkedin trainer for Route Three Marketing and co-producer of Zero To Money Making Website & Wordpress Authorities. Connect with Trevor on Google+

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  • http://gowheelchairs.com/ wheelchairs

    Air Canada Breaks Wheelchairs. Jay said. Good on ya Air Canada! Good to see the airline we continually bail out has never figured Talk about bad PR for Air Canada, it is possible to repair a chair upon an emergency.

  • Chimeragx

    yeah…I agree the chairs must be repaired upon an emergency..I really felt pity with Tutus…

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    It is really pitiful to see wheelchairs unfixed…..it should be fixed upon an emergency.. Coz really there are a lot that would be affected…

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