Protecting Your Company’s Social Media Profile


The social media outrage cycle hit United Airlines this week.

The airline first faced backlash after it barred a 10-year-old pass holder from boarding a flight due to the fact she was wearing leggings.

Pass holders are given to “employees or to travelers using a United Airlines perk – often called a buddy pass” – that allows friends and family of employees to fly for free or at a discount.
After a woman, Shannon Watts, a passenger, and founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control group, live-tweeted the incident, United Airlines first responded by pointing to its rules for general customers, which allows United to refuse transportation “for passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed.”  

But as Twitter users noted, there’s nothing there making clear that leggings – or anything else in particular – are not proper.


The Airline Responded …

The airlines then responded by saying that the passengers were “pass riders and that there is a well-known dress code for pass holders because they are representing the airline while using the pass“.

But by that time, the damage had been done.

The Twitter feed was aghast: United Airlines was going to police a child’s clothing?  And was this part of a larger issue of society policing how women dress? 

After a lot of comments on the topic United later released the following statement:


We Care About …

“We care about the way we present ourselves to you, our customers, as we believe that is part of the experience on board our flights. 

One of the benefits of working for an airline is that our employees are able to travel the world.

Even better, they can extend this privilege to a select number of what we call ‘pass riders.’

These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel – on our airline as well as on airlines around the world where we have mutual agreements in place for employees and pass riders”.


Representatives Of United …
“When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow.

The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel.

We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code”.

“To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”

A Long-Term User Said … 

A long-time user of the United Airlines pass program stated: “United has had a dress code for pass riders for as long as I’ve been able to use this fantastic benefit.

We used to be required to wear a coat and tie (dresses for the ladies) for first class and although the dress code has been dramatically loosened, it still is – and should be – there.

If regular passengers want to dress like slobs fine, but United employees and their pass-riding friends need to establish a higher bar when they are hitching a ride.”

A week later, there continue to be comments regarding this comedy of errors that was started by a single passenger using social media to comment on something she knew nothing about.


What About Your Company? 

What about your company?  Are you prepared to handle the social media firestorm from someone who makes a widely-spread comment that is only partially true or not true at all? 

Or from the customer who believes they were treated badly by your company and wants the world to know.

In this social media driven world where “alternative facts” and “fake news” substitutes for the real thing, how should a company behave?

1.     Do not react or over-react to the comments being made. In many cases, they are driven by emotion and the last thing you want to do is react emotionally. A public, emotional war of words will only hurt your company. This is the time to take a deep breath or several of them.

2.     Make certain that you have all the facts before responding. You will notice that the initial response from United Airlines fanned the flames and made it look like the airline was attempting to regulate passengers dress; which was not the case.

3.     Once you have gathered all the facts, respond in a calm logical manner. If the company is at fault, admit the problem and outline the steps you are taking to fix the problem. If the comments come from a customer, if possible, go overboard to correct the problem for that customer and make certain the steps you have taken are outlined in your response. Be factual and honest.

4.     Have a single person in your organization designated to respond to social media comments or inquiries. And make certain that you let your employees that any ad hoc comments they may make in defense of your company will only make things worse.

5.     Someone in your company should, have as part of their job responsibility, monitor social media on behalf of your company and keep you informed of what is being said, both good and bad.
Social media is both a marketing tool and a tool for use by those with an agenda. Using it correctly can benefit both you and your company. Remember, what is said on the internet is forever!  So make “forever” work for you.

Revitalization Partners is a Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a demonstrated track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients.  We specialize in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations.  Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Reengineering or Receivership/Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

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