Volcano in Bali Causes PR Turbulence

Are there PR lessons to learn from the social media rants of irate travelers venting over delayed flights? Sure there are.

This week’s volcanic eruption on island paradise Bali caused airport closures, grounded flights and headaches for many airlines. Jetstar, an Australian budget airline, found itself in the middle of a social media imbroglio as well. The airline’s use of Facebook to post status updates for the grounded passengers inbetween its usual social postings caused a social media flap that underscored the need for PR coordination and direction on communications across all social platforms in times of crisis.

The image of a flying plane with the Jetstar insignia seemed innocuous enough when it was uploaded to Jetstar’s Facebook account a few days ago. Yet, the timing and photo selection couldn’t have been more

This photo ignited social media protests when it was posted as JetStar's new Facebook cover photo.

This photo ignited social media protests when it was posted as JetStar’s new Facebook cover photo.

ill-fated. As soon as it went live, social media dashboards lit up with posts by disgruntled travelers pointing to the irony and insensitivity of  uploading a photo of a plane inflight when thousands of passengers were stranded in Bali waiting to hear when flights would resume.

The problem wasn’t that Jetstar’s was using social media to communicate travel updates. In fact, Jetstar ought to be commended for its proactive use of a popular social media channel to keep travelers apprised. The problem can be attributed to the lack of a coordinated interdepartmental plan to provide more thought and oversight to the communications process when things started to go awry.

Desperate times call for desperate measures as they say. Clearly people were under duress. They were tweeting and posting their concerns on Facebook and Instagram long before the Facebook cover image was uploaded. They didn’t know if they would get travel refunds, some were running out of prescribed medications and families had been separated when some flights got out and others didn’t. Regardless of whether PR, marketing or customer service has day-to-day responsibility for social media at Jetstar, what was needed at this sensitive time was an oversight process to monitor and schedule all external communications; one that included PR, the group ultimately responsible for the airline’s official messages and reputation.

If Jetstar’s social team had been operating in crisis mode to review each post with a PR representative, surely the new Facebook cover image of the flying plane would not have made it through the security checkpoint.

While there is no way for companies to foresee or prevent all social media flashpoints, plans can be put in place for extraordinary circumstances. We invite you to share what your company is doing to coordinate external communications across departments.

Australia’s 9news.com.au broadcast and article entitled Jetstar announces some Bali flights to resume amid PR nightmare provides more background on how the Facebook photo caused more outrage.


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