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The phrase “No publicity is bad publicity” might not apply to social media. Especially when you see your brand trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. US Airlines tasted this bitter medicine when it tweeted an inappropriate pornographic image to its fellow customers – by mistake.


In response to a customer’s grievance, the very active Airline unbeknownst tweeted a pornographic picture along with the text:  “We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it for review and follow-up.” Instead of flagging the picture, the link was replaced with the actual link of the picture:


The reaction

Needless to say, all hell broke loose on Twitter. The tweet immediately went viral with more than 12500+ retweets and 9500+ favourites in an hour. There were spoofs, articles, blame games, etc. What’s more, the tweet had come just a day after an issue when a Dutch teenager tweeted to US Airlines stating a bomb threat, as a joke. She was arrested and her account was banned subsequently.

t1However, this tweet remained posted making the topic trend and was deleted after an entire hour by which time it spawned social media case studies and speculation on whether or not the account manager be fired:


 The official statement:


After realising their mistake, the Airlines deleted the tweet eventually and released a statement.  Now the next big question that circulated on the internet was, “Will the account manager be fired?’

“It was an honest mistake,” Matt Miller, a spokesperson for US Airways, told Mashable. “It was done as part of the process to capture the tweet to flag it as inappropriate,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, the link to the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer.”

But the airline decided not to let go of their employee as it was a honest mistake.

What should the brand have done to rectify the issue?

  • They are always watching:  Social media has become an unwitting audience; and somewhere along the line, the roles have become reversed. The crowd jumps at the chance of a small mistake; more so when it comes from a brand like US Airlines. To be on the safer side, if each brand had a supervisor who takes up the job to monitor the activities, perform a spell check and proof read on updates, tweets and the like, mistakes can be cut down greatly.
  • Expect the Unexpected: A brand on Twitter must always be on its toes and expect the unexpected. It could be a mistake from its part, a customer grievance that needs attention at the next minute, a query that needs to be answered right then, a prospect who approaches the brand looking for answers, etc.
  • Social managers in shifts: This cannot be however achieved by one person alone. A team can be put in place and they can take shifts in turns to handle the brand at times convenient for the individual. This way, the brand is always alert.
  • Instant response: All that said and done, the most important thing to do in situations like these is instant response. Waiting for an entire hour has obviously not done any good to US Airlines. In less than an hour, it went on to become a laughing stock in the world’s social media forum. Even though it was a honest mistake, the damage has now left a lasting impact on not just the brand but also has helped remind social media managers all over the world that mistakes will not be taken lightly on social media.

Lesson learnt?

  • As mentioned above, the case has helped social media managers review their plan of action on what best to do in situations like these.
  • By not firing the account manager, US Airlines have showed the world that we can learn how to avoid the mistake by taking measures to solve it.
  • What happens on social media does not actually stay on social media. Proving to us once again that social media is, indeed ruling the current scenario.

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