WestJet’s expert social media response to bomb hoaxes

The airline's transparent approach has helped calm nerves

For the past week, WestJet‘s Twitter feed has been a master class in crisis communications.

In just five days, the airline received four bomb threats, all of which turned out to be hoaxes. The incidents attracted a great amount of attention in the press and online, but in each case WestJet has been able to get ahead of the story and curb panic.

Throughout the week, WestJet has been remarkably open on Twitter, sharing just enough information to calm the public, but not enough to interfere with safety or investigations.

The company used Twitter to cover all its bases, reiterating safety was its top concern, thanking local emergency crews and stating that it was working with the local police and would share more information when appropriate.

Rather than try to keep the threats quiet, WestJet elected to share the details it could, even small details like the fact guests were provided food and water during the police investigation, or that they would be accommodated overnight in hotels. In other cases, it shared the type of details found in news reports, like the number of passengers on flights and the number who sustained injuries.

Adrienne Simic, vice-president of the PR firm Media Profile, called WestJet’s response to the threats “a stellar example of using social media throughout a crisis.”

“WestJet’s demonstrated model behaviour in terms of social media management, respecting the audience and being proactive and respectful,” she said.

The brand, she said, thought about what type of information people would want to know about the incident and provided it in a way that was thoughtful and caring. It also clearly gave its social media team the authority to respond in the way it felt appropriate without getting overly bogged down with layers of approval.

Simic also pointed out that the company’s response was consistent with its own brand values, like its commitment to safety and to being honest, open and keeping its commitments.

WestJet was also actively responding to consumers with questions, often working to calm nerves during the tense situation. In one case, several people responded to a tweet about the threat asking what happened. When someone tweeted that it sounded scary, WestJet was quick to respond, “Not scary – the police were in charge of the situation and gave great directions while looking after everyone.”

In each case, WestJet appeared to be working closely with local airport authorities and police, frequently quoting information from those sources and sharing status updates from partners as they tackled the situation in unison.

“WestJet’s very proactive social media communication made WestJet the news source. Media outlets were retweeting the news. It has put the brand in a very interesting position. They’ve become a source of trusted news and information.”

Robert Palmer, who manages WestJet’s public relations team, shared information about the incidents with Marketing as he has with other members of the press. While no one from the company was able to speak in detail about the incidents because they are criminal investigations, he offered his take on how the company used social media during the past week.

“We are using our social media channels to communicate with our guests, the media and the general public because of their timely nature,” Palmer said. “Our fans and followers are highly engaged; we see instantaneously their reaction to our posts and they respond just as quickly.”

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