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Malaysia Airlines: Are You Completely Heartless? Do You Deserve The Looming Firestorm?

(Updates below as the full story unfolds.) 

Imagine your mother is missing. En route to her dream vacation or coming home from visiting you, her plane went missing. She is gone, along with hundreds of other people.

Days of frantic, desperate effort reveals nothing. Each day seems like a year. It’s a complete nightmare.

Then, from out of the blue, you get a TEXT notifying you that she is dead. Her plane went down in the ocean with no survivors.

You might have already known it was coming, with signals from your broken heart screaming there would have been news if everything was okay. No news wasn’t good. Dwindling hope by the hour.

BUT THIS! It’s real! She’s gone! And you found out via text.


If this is indeed how the news was released to the families impacted, I am absolutely stunned, horrified with disbelief that those working for Malaysia Airlines thought this was an acceptable way to notify loved ones of those on Flight 370 with the news of what happened to that plane. I can only imagine being in their shoes.

Have they no heart? No mothers or loved ones?

It’s the equivalent of finding out horrible news on Facebook.

From a customer service standpoint, I hope they get the public relations nightmare they deserve. How long would it have taken to enlist a handful of people to make personal phone calls to those very same cell phone numbers? Every person on that list could have been contacted, if a little common sense had been used.

Their social media and PR crisis is taking root right this very moment, and – given the ignorance they have already shown – they probably don’t even see it coming.  

UPDATE: This may not be the full story.... Give me a few minutes to scout out more details... A great example of journalism reporting a partial story that leads to a mess. Did they do the right thing? Is it just more CYA? Details coming ASAP.

UPDATE: Please bear with me, as details emerge on this breaking news story.  

From CBS News: "Malaysia Airlines, the government of Malaysia... and the military forces of Malaysia have concealed, delayed and hid the truth from the relatives and the peoples of the world," the statement said. "This despicable act aimed to fool the relatives of the 154 Chinese passengers have devastated us physically and mentally, while misleading and delaying the rescue operation, wasting a lot of manpower, material resources and leading to the loss of precious rescue time." 

And according to a second report, some were notified in person at the hotel, with many others learning via the televised announcement.

Was this handled the best way possible?  Perhaps, perhaps not. There is no good way to learn horrible news. Did ABC sensationalize the wrong fact? Is it typical of journalism these days in the rush to beat social media to the punch for announcing news? Do cultural differences impact the story, as news junkie Deborah Brody (@dbmc) smartly pointed out? I don't know.

But WHAT I DO KNOW is that any company, no matter how large, should put people first. Treat people with care first, then do what you have to do for your business. 

If I handled PR for this airlines, I'd be hard at work sharing the airlines stance by posting comments on every article possible that could be misconstrued or was sensationalized with the wrong facts. Putting my viewpoint into the mix... I'd also be releasing media statements constantly to give the REAL FACTS to media outlets looking for the right story, not just A story. I would rely on total transparency and constant communication to lead the way.

How would YOU handle this, if you were on their PR team?

UPDATE: Is the handwringing necessary? TechDirt has posted that it isn't what it seems. "...this wasn't a mass text that went out to all families with no other action taken. The texts were an opt-in decision by families that could not be met face to face at hotels or support centers. They wanted the families of the victims to get the news first before reporters got a hold of the story."

One of the things most fascinating about this story is how many legs it has grown. In my opinion, it is a fascinating example of the impact of social media on journalism today. Would this story be going in another direction if handled differently by Malaysia Airlines? Did they handle this properly or not? Did cultural differences play a hand? We'll see. As a PR professional, it is fascinating to watch. As a person with loved ones of my own, this entire situation breaks my heart. When news plays out a deeply personal situation on a worldwide stage, I can only image how it feels from the flip side of the fence. 

Social media also reveals a level of global compassion and caring that is mind-boggling. A Facebook source mentioned a Starbucks in Singapore had an employee writing #‎PrayForMH370‬ on customer cups. Complaints and frustrations aside about how breaking news morphs, I have to say how much I love the way social media brings together the world in showing compassion for victims and those dealing with loss, grief or difficult circumstances. The caring and hope is simply amazing... and utterly wonderful. People care about total strangers all over the world. It's a beautiful thing.

No more updates. I promise. But please do share your perspective and thoughts!

Join The Conversation

  • CarrieMorgan's picture
    Mar 25 Posted 3 years ago CarrieMorgan

    I'm not a journalist, Matt - I read a credible news source - ABC - and wrote an opinion piece based on that. What consumer and blogger DOESN'T do that? 

  • Matt Aster's picture
    Mar 25 Posted 3 years ago Matt Aster

    UPDATE: This may not be the full story.... Give me a few minutes to scout out more details... A great example of journalism reporting a partial story that leads to a mess.

    And you did the same thing by reporting on something before full details came out.

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