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Posts from the ‘Ethiopian’ Category

The will of transparency.

February 25th, 2014

Kinny Cheng

Inevitably, this will become a trend that corporations will need to follow.

The reason is simple: people demand straight answers.

And how can they? Simple — through social media, and especially for those who have access to it anywhere and anytime (we have the scaling economies of smartphone makers and greater accessibility to mobile data and Wi-Fi to thank for that!)

In the age of social media, drumming up a press release or announcement and simply making that publicly available on a web site will no longer cut it.

Instead, company representatives responsible for dealing with the public will now have to take a spread-of-gunfire worth of ad-hoc questions, and provide adequate answers in a timely and appropriate manner — ideally, concise one-to-two-sentence answers that’s easily understood by the generally-inquisitive laymen.

As always, the key with social media is to engage and interact. Even in cases like these, it’s important to maintain virtual composure in getting the message across.

The Asiana Airlines Flight 214 incident

As Mary Kirby, of Runway Girl fame, noted in her recent write-up:

Last year in the aftermath of the Asiana Flight 214 crash, when it became evident that economy class seats had collapsed on each other and left the tracks; and evacuation slides had deployed inside the cabin, pinning two flight attendants, some journalists ran into roadblocks when trying to cover the Boeing 777-200ER accident.

Who manufactured the seats? Who manufactured the slides? The answers to these questions weren’t readily available. Why? Because there is a huge lack of transparency in the aircraft interiors world, and seat companies, slide manufacturers and other interiors providers enjoy a level of secrecy (and protection) that other parts of the airline industry can only envy.

The reason for this is simple, says a top PR representative with a major legacy airline who – somewhat ironically – asked not to be named. “The specs that we lay out in a press release [about new interiors] are all about our customer experience; the things that get into that spec are not as important as the spec itself so things like seat pitch, what the cabin configuration is going to be, the elements being updated and upgraded – those are passenger comfort and passenger conditions that are important elements from our perspective, but manufacturers have different perspectives [on disclosure],” he says.

“We don’t believe in disclosing who all our vendors are. Obviously [such disclosure] has an impact to vendors and their bottom lines. They’re free to disclose [the information] once we’ve made announcements.” Of course, few of them rarely do.

(The entire article is a good, and recommended, read.)

While this was a case for those investigative individuals wanting the whole truth, the issue of transparency was clearly an issue. The usual suspects for such lack of clarity are present: stakeholder protection (e.g. secrecy); bottom-line ambiguity; and greater flexibility in product marketing and support efforts.

When it is all business-as-usual, the above points would seemingly not matter so much because customers are only concerned about the end-product’s overall worth in dollars and cents. But when matters relating to liability, legality and compensation are brought forward, and compounded by the social media effect, the situation can become very sticky.

Arguably, and by right, the cabin product manufacturers only need to answer to Asiana Airlines on such matters. But because of the aftermath’s detailed photographic evidence, which was made public via Twitter, it makes things difficult for the airline to deal with on virtually all fronts.

It can only be beneficial for all the parties involved come crunch time if the proper efforts towards transparency were being undertaken.

The Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET702 incident

Last week, Ethiopian Airlines experienced a case of hijacking on one of its flights. The co-pilot of Flight ET702, flying from Addis Ababa to Rome, had allegedly taken control of the airborne aircraft, right after the captain left the cockpit for his lavatory break, and subsequently having the door locked behind him.

The information became public knowledge right after the aircraft transmitted a “Squawk 7500” transponder code. Initially, a handful of aviation enthusiasts spotted this, and questioned others about it over Twitter (myself included). It did not become a trending subject until a few hours later, when the aircraft had veered off its intended course and headed towards Switzerland. People who followed this closely was able to track the aircraft’s movement via either FlightRadar24 or Plane Finder (both online services offer a public, free-to-use aircraft tracking service).

Interestingly, almost none of the official news agencies had picked up the story — it was late Sunday afternoon/evening in North America, past-midnight in Europe, and early morning in Asia. News was literally being created by active Twitter users who have been sharing the details publicly as they broke.

After the aircraft was given the all-clear to touch down in Geneva, the radio transmission between the co-pilot and Geneva Airport’s air traffic control (ATC) was also made public (via LiveATC, which offers a near-live playback of such transmissions). As more details came to light via the different channels of information, people who followed the ordeal closely were able to piece the story together with a fairly good level of certainty.

By this time, Ethiopian Airlines — a company that uses social media, and is on both Facebook and Twitter — has not made any comments relating to any hijacking attempt on their aircraft. A major fail considering the rest-of-the-world has all the details of what went down, albeit unofficially.

Simpliflying, an aviation marketing consultancy, tweeted this towards the end of the Ethiopian event:

3 Rules:
1) Have an SM presence on at least FB and Twitter.
2) Set clear expectations of response times.
3) Have a crisis mgmt plan. #ET702

While I wasn’t exactly glued to Twitter the entire time of the incident, it was clear that the Ethiopian Airlines failed to utilise its social media presence to, possibly, inform the world of what was exactly happening. Only later did the airline publicise a press release on the incident, but later withdrawn (due to lack of information that the public already knew about) and re-released with minor corrections.

The lack of willingness to be (a bit more) transparent with its stakeholders, especially in a concerning case like this, and utilise the tools available to alleviate a possible public relations disaster, is counterproductive considering what could have been.

Takeaways

As the saying goes, “honesty is the best policy”.

For corporates, it is easier said than done. But at the same time, those individuals involved in public relations and communications must not use this as an excuse to bend, exaggerate or sugar-coat the message which needs to be seen or heard.

Before social media arrived, controlling the flow of information that went public was still somewhat possible. Today, if one was to try and get away with it, the consequential backlash will most certainly be a given, measured by the (im)proper actions that proceed the situation warranting it.

I am a strong believer in transparency, even in situations where it can seem extremely difficult to reach out to the general public and (most likely) hurt the corporate image. For every situation, there is a way. No one scenario is ever the same. But beginning with the right concept of tackling the issue is a good start.

Again, what most people do not understand is that corporate communication in the social media world is a two-way highway — that is, heavy and fast-paced engagement and interaction.

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