United Airlines is currently taking continuous heat for a man who was battered and dragged off one of its flights. For the uninformed, a doctor originally from Vietnam, was beaten and dragged off a plane a couple of days ago, and while it was the police that attacked the man, United is taking the heat on Reddit and new media.
Reddit.com is where all things viral gain internet traction. Reddit’s power is its ability to give the internet a voice with real-world consequences. With over 243 million users, brands suffer the opinion of Reddit’s collective mindset, but there are ways to mitigate damage.
The lack of United’s presence on new media, specifically Reddit, is a significant oversight.
Here’s why: Reddit is currently the 4th most visited site in the United States and has over 3,215,812 page views per day. Reddit’s front page is comprised of links, pictures, and user submitted content. Popular content is “upvoted” by other users, and the submitting Redditor gets an increase in “Karma Points.” Karma means nothing outside of Reddit, but inside Reddit, those with higher Karma earn higher levels of respect within the community.
Every minute, posts about the United Airlines controversy are submitted in a feedback loop of Karma points for United hate. United Airlines memes are making the rounds, and sooner than later, United will find themselves a continuous trope in new media.
With a little PR work, it is likely United could have slowed and reframed the conversation, saving themselves from a bit of the drama.
Out In Front, Ask Me Anything
Oscar Munoz, the standing CEO of United Airlines, was quick to publish an apology via Twitter and traditional media sources. However, he missed an opportunity to create and control a conversation about his and United’s growing controversy.
One of the most popular pages on Reddit is the “I am, Ask Me Anything” page, popularly known as IAMA. IAMA allows people and brands to open a conversation with the Reddit community. President Barack Obama held one and Bill Gates has held three.
Reddit users submit questions in IAMA’s, and the most popular questions are voted to the top with the expectation that the persons at the top the of AMA will answer these questions. Nothing is off the table, so Mr. Munoz and his PR team would need to be ready for anything.
With an IAMA, you establish a target for Redditors to aim at, and therefore can control the heat directed at your brand. Munoz and his PR firm had an opportunity to stand in front of Reddit, put a thumb in the dam, and create a target for the collective creative anger against United.
Instead, Redditors pushed their anger in every direction, attacking United on every conceivable platform, from memes and muckraking, to United App Reviews.
Case Study: Big Pharma
Pharma is typically not a popular industry but Todd MacLaughlan, the CEO of Profounda, went on an IAMA to share the good news, and increase the perception of his company. While started the IAMA on a positive note, he did not discard hard questions. When questioned on the negative perceptions of big pharma he answered honestly and candidly.
Munoz could have done the same. While Munoz played damage control, he could have answered questions from the personal level.
If a question like “Why did this happen on your flight?” came up Munoz could have come back with an “I don’t know, and I would never want my friends or family to be treated this way. I am going to find out, and work to fix it.”
On the other side, things can go bad.
Woody Harrelson claimed to be doing an AMA in part bring awareness to his movie Rampart. However, it became very clear that it was likely the PR team from Rampart running the AMA. Because they did not do research, they thought all the questions in the AMA would be related to the film, but this is not how AMA’s work. AMA’s allow Reddit users to ask “Anything ” and the users expect responses to the most upvoted questions.
Harrelson’s AMA has gone down as the worst in history and damaged both his personal brand and his film Rampart.
PR on New Media New Needs to Catch Up
With Reddit positioned as a viral marketplace, PR on the platform becomes a must. It needs to become the first stop for brands that want to get ahead of public relation disasters. Once the Reddit grabs hold of a topic, it stays at the top of the internet conversation until they let go. Weeks and months of the Reddit main page can beat PR disasters into a digital dead horse, but not before a brand’s reputation takes overwhelming amounts of damage.