Here’s what United should have done

Ok, that’s an overstatement. Here are some things they could have done differently, to avoid the nightmare that is their current brand situation. Honestly, I didn’t even want to comment on this, but it’s just so bad that I can’t fight my own instincts. But, I’ll keep it brief for all of our sake.

  1. Say sorry for the real reason: On day one, United’s CEO could have said, “I am so sorry for what happened to this passenger.” Even if the passenger had started a fight, it wouldn’t have mattered. The fact is there’s a video of this human being bloodied and dragged. No individual piece of information will ever make those images disappear. Apologizing for “re-accommodating” is almost more offensive than no comment at all.
  2. Assume all internal memos will be leaked: Guess what, there are no secrets. Guess what else, no one likes a person who speaks out of both sides of their mouth. If you are truly sorry, say sorry in the same way to every audience. Customers, PR, and your employees. Don’t say sorry externally, and then turn around and whisper “just kidding, we’re not really sorry! it was his fault” to your colleagues.
  3. Train your crisis team to speak on social media: Social networks are populated by lots and lots of humans. These humans come from all walks of life. This is different than targeted media relations. When you speak to editors, you use a certain tone, and convey specific information. When you speak to millions of individuals who have had experiences with your airlines, who have their own opinions, biases, and backgrounds, you must use different language. You must have a different type of EQ. Find someone on the team who understands those customers, speaks their language, and can help you translate. ASAP.

This is of course an oversimplified list of things that could have been done differently. And, hindsight is 20/20. But, these are rules that I live by every day, and it’s surprising after so many snafus United hasn’t learned them yet.

What do you think?