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Crisis Communications and Social Media

I was lucky enough to attend the first part of the American Association of Airport Executives Third Annual Social Media conference right here in Dallas on September 9th.  I had a chance to listen to some outstanding speakers, and to meet Travel Channel celebrity Dickie Davis, of Airport 24/7 Miami (she is even nicer in person). dualselfie Some of the interesting topics included, ROI at DFW and American Airlines,  Indianapolis airport’s experience as a gateway for the Superbowl and the improbable story about how grit and good ideas launched tiny Canton Akron Airport (CAK) as an icon of the region with almost 60,000 Facebook likes.

The keynote speaker was, Charles Schuler, Associate Deputy Director of Communications and Marketing for San Francisco airport, who spoke about the recent crash of Asiana Airlines.  Charles began by discussing the rather perfunctory preparation for an emergency at SFO and how those preparations stacked up against everything that happened (not well).

July 6, was a day off for Charles until he got an alert from BBC News that there was a crash at SFO.  Charles, an employee on the Communications Department of SFO airport, heard it first from the BBC Breaking News.

There were a number of features complicating this tragedy:

  • The airport’s website went down due to the extreme traffic.
  • Asiana Passenger and Samsung employee, David Eun, became a‘citizen journalist’ reporting on his experience immediately after evacuating the plane.
  • The cancellation of flights across the world bound for SFO
  • Stranded SFO passengers and gouging by hotels

When the NTSB arrived a day later the dynamics had completely changed with the NTSB taking a leading role.


Here were some of the surprising take-aways from his experience.

  • Twitter was the lead social media application.
  • Hootsuite was the platform used by SFO.
  • Hootsuite has a tool called geo-fencing that allowed the communications team to see social media posts from within a certain geographic area.  Using geo-fencing, the communications team discovered the pricing gouging by local hotels, and convinced the hotels to change course by emphasizing the opportunity tell a positive story about the business community helping out passengers in distress.
  • One of the unanswered questions from Charles asked rhetorically was the sequencing of social media during news conferences.  Certainly you don’t want to get twitter out ahead of the press conference, but if you wait too long after the press conference the tweets lose relevance.

Finally you hear the shibboleth all the time about how listening is so important, in the past that seemed kind of nebulous to me.  Charles stressed throughout the presentation the importance of ‘taking the temperature’ figuring out what was getting traction.  There was an example he used about working with the FAA to get media outlets a detailed explanation of how ILS works that really illustrates this point.  It was inspiring to hear about how those best practices were actually implemented and how they affected the outcome.

Protip: take your electronics chargers to a conference.  There were unused electric sockets everywhere, but I was in conserving battery mode instead of just plugging in.



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