Airlines are probably among the businesses that are best prepared to communicate in crisis situations. If something should happen to a plane for example, there is a very high risk that the lives of passengers and crew are in danger. A worst case scenario for an airline is much more devastating than for most other businesses, so they need to be well prepared.
The tragic events today with the missing Air France Flight 447 highlights how airlines communicate in a crisis. When a plane goes missing there is a great need for information and people flock online to find out as much as possible. Among the first places we look for information are in traditional media. We also go to the company web site and in this case Air France has put up brief statements on the top of the site. People also turn to Google to find information and the very first hit on Google.se is a press release from Air France informing us about which flight is missing and where to turn for more info.
However, today we also turn to social media in times of crisis. Yesterday there was a power outage in the north of Stockholm and although the two events are not comparable in any way, it was interesting to see how the discussion started immediately on Twitter. I tweeted as soon as the lights went out and got responses from others in the neighbourhood. Soon someone came up with the hashtag #sthlmblackout and we quickly got a better understanding of the geographic scope of the blackout. Traditional media reported much later about the event that left 100,000 households without electricity for several hours.
In the same way people turn to Twitter to find information about flight 447 and to discuss the catastrophic indicent. Earlier today, “Atlantic” was one of the most discussed topics on Twitter and then “Air France” has been top five for most of the day. Thousands of tweets have also been tagged #AF447. A dedicated Wikipedia page for flight 447 has also been established and is continuously updated throughout the day.
I noticed the story first on Twitter when a person I follow retweeted the news from the account Breaking News which has more than 470,000 followers. Breaking News describes itself as “Your most credible Twitter news source. First in online breaking news!”. As more and more people join Twitter it will become an increasingly important channel for businesses in crisis situations. Air France doesn’t use the account http://twitter.com/airfrance and it is not even clear if the company is in possesion of the account. In the near future, Twitter will have to become an integral part of any company crisis plan because that is where many discuss current topics.
Related story in Swedish about Com hem and Twitter.
Update: Air France is a subsidiary of Air France-KLM Group, which many people may not be aware of. KLM has a Twitter account at www.twitter.com/KLM with four tweets about the tragedy. If I was responsible for this account, I would definitely change the background image which currently includes an image of a smiling young woman.