United 'Loses' Girl: Lessons in Brand Crisis Management


On June 30, 2012, parents in California took their 10-year-old daughter to an airport for her trip to summer camp.  The girl would connect to another flight in Chicago, and representatives from her camp would pick her up at her final destination.  The parents paid extra for their daughter to fly as an unaccompanied minor on United Airlines.  As recounted in a blog post written by a friend of the family – as well as an article in Slate Magazine – the girl missed her connection.
Only after 40 long minutes was United able to confirm the young girl’s location.
When, and how, did one family’s scary episode – and exasperating customer experience – turn into a social media event?  To tell that story, we used Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight social media analytics tool to analyze conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Social media conversation spiked on August 13, the day when the friend of the family published his blog post explaining both the incident and United’s shortcomings in dealing with the situation.  According to our analysis, social media users registered about 1,000 relevant opinions about the incident on August 13.
On August 14, social media conversation regarding the incident topped out around 1,350 opinions.  On that day, our analysis shows that social media sentiment regarding the incident and United’s response occupied 94% of the conversation space about the brand.  It is evident that the brand crisis drove a very high proportion of conversation about United Airlines during the peak of the crisis.

Will Oremus, staff writer at Slate, reported on the episode for the online news magazine, but not until August 16. Will Oremus’s journalistic story had as much to do with United Airlines’ mismanagement of its relationship with customers in the social media sphere as it had to do with the girl’s unfortunate adventure.  Crimson Hexagon’s analysis indicates that by that time the social media conversation about the episode was already subsiding.

As we go to “press” on August 21, we are watching the social media space to see if the journalistic attention to United Airlines’ customer service issues and public relations “nightmare” will bring about another wave of social media conversation.  For now though, Crimson Hexagon’s analysis shows that monitoring social sentiment regarding brand reputation and analyzing conversation topics are as crucial as ever.
Tweet us your thoughts @crimsonhexagon.  (And, as always, please let us know if you’d like a live online demo of the ForSight platform!)

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