US Airways: From #EpicFail to a Solid Lesson in #H2H

Posted on April 18th 2014

US Airways: From #EpicFail to a Solid Lesson in #H2H
It’s never easy to fail publicly in social. Everyone can feel their pain, which could be why brands operate out of embarrassment when they do fail, lashing out with knee-jerk reactions and usually the termination of a scapegoat – an “intern” – thinking it will solve the problem. But ultimately, just making the “problem” go away does nothing to solve the actual problem. Earlier this week, when US Airways accidentally tweeted an incredibly graphic NSFW image by accident while trying to resolve a customer complaint, everyone’s initial reaction (after making every “landing strip” and “black box” joke in the book) was this:

“Somebody’s getting fired.”

The crowds amassed and took sides without context. Tweet after tweet bludgeoned the brand with jokes, parodies and anger. Another brand had failed, in one second tarnishing its reputation – and based on past social fails, someone was going to have to pay.

But then US Airways responded with something, unexpected.

“It was an honest mistake,” Matt Miller, a spokesperson for US Airways, told Mashable. “It was done as part of the process to capture the tweet to flag it as inappropriate,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, the link to the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer.”

Wait… what? Mr. Miller actually acknowledged that it was an honest mistake, and dared to reveal that there are actually – GASP! – humans working for their airline?! What is happening?!

Humanity QuoteUS Airways, I commend you for not firing anyone. You could have been like everyone else and found a scapegoat, but didn’t. Human to Human #H2H means bringing back the simplicity, empathy and imperfection in our communication. You exemplified #H2H in how you handled this snafu, and it took courage. You embraced the failure, were open about it, and reassured us that you would use this misstep as a lesson in sharpening your brand pencil to create better social governance processes in the future so it didn’t happen again. #respect.

Thank you for remembering that humans are imperfect. We are going to fail. And if we don’t embrace those failures and learn from them, then what’s the point?! As I say in my book: “The rise of social media has given a digital platform to the dark side of anonymity, both as individuals and as crowds. I say it’s time to lay down the virtual pitchforks and torches and bring this behavior back into balance. The delightful side of humanity holds with it empathy, understanding, and forgiveness, and when remembered in our communication, it ties us together as a common group.”

US Airways is the first brand I have seen show real class in how they handled this pretty huge crisis. And I feel endeared to them now: they get me as a human because I make mistakes, too. Kudos to USAirways – you’re a great example of an #H2H brand.

Bryan Kramer

Bryan Kramer

CEO, PureMatter

Bryan is a Social Business Strategist and CEO of PureMatter where he’s led his agency to consistent growth over the last 10 years earning a spot as one of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing private companies by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Bryan was recently listed globally as the 43rd most talked about marketer by senior marketers in a report study via LeadTail. Bryan was also  listed as #26 by Kred as a Global Top CEO Influencer on Social Media (full list) and as one of The Top 50 Social CEOs on Twitter in the world by the Huffington Post. (full list).

Being a veracious consumer of knowledge, understanding social media and how it works both as a communication channel and shaper of popular culture has his full attention. Bryan has quickly become one of the country’s leading authorities on social strategy, earning a combined reach in his media outlets of over 100k+. In true social style, he loves to talk about it anywhere he can. 


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Posted on April 18th 2014 at 12:45PM

I also thought they handled it very, very well - turning what could have been an epic disaster into a now-hilarious story that will be told for years, but without badmouthing the brand. Kudos to them! 

At first, I thought it might have been the most brilliant PR stunt ever, but who could possibly think that one up? Especially in such a traditionally conservative industry. It's just too over the top. LOL  

Posted on April 19th 2014 at 7:19AM

Kinda reminds me of a famous quote -- The greatest failure is not learning from one's mistakes!

Posted on April 19th 2014 at 7:19AM

Kinda reminds me of a famous quote -- The greatest failure is not learning from one's mistakes!

Posted on April 21st 2014 at 8:14PM

US Airways certainly deserves a good pat on the back for how they handled the situation and coming out and saying what we all know. Humans run the brand. It interacts with humans and as they are, humans will always make mistakes. 

Paul makes a great point: The greatest failure is not learning from one's mistakes!

A smart man (brand) learns from it's own mistakes...A wise man (brand) learns from the mistakes of others. 

I believe that if this was the first mistake made by the person at the controls of US Airways Twitter Stick that day then so be it...learn and move on.  If it was not the first then you as a company have a potential liability on the flight deck and honestly have to think about jettison that person or moving them to a safer place than the public facing profile.

Yes, it was a mistake and it exemplifies an H2H company, but you can be human without being that human.