A Look at Malaysia Airlines’s Crisis Communications During the Crisis of Flight MH370
By now, we’ve all heard of the terrible crisis Malaysia Airlines is facing with flight MH370 appearing to have vanished out of thin air with over 200 passengers and crew members aboard.
It’s an unthinkable situation, though one that every airline needs to be prepared to properly manage at any given time. So how is Malaysia Airlines handling this crisis?
A Look at Malaysia Airlines’s Crisis Communications
Malaysia airlines has demonstrated compassion, honesty and competence while handling this crisis. How have they managed to do this in such a hectic, frustrating and demanding time? Let’s take a look…
They established a crisis communications home base
The airline has activated a dark website which is the best strategy for them as a crisis communications home base. The link to this dark website is predominantly displayed from their corporate website’s homepage, which is extremely important since inquiring minds are systematically navigating to their corporate website for news and updates regarding the crisis.
Although, in our opinion, this dark website could be better optimized for high search engine rankings and maximum reach, it certainly does the trick. All communications and updates regarding the crisis are being published to this home base and the website is simple, user-friendly and easy to navigate. All communications are published in both English and Chinese to accommodate the different audiences turing to this dark website for news and updates. Contact information is clearly displayed from every page of the dark website, which relinquishes the need to go searching for it.
Learn more about dark websites as a crisis communications strategy.
Meeting today’s real-time demand
The airline has done a good job at publishing new updates in a timely fashion to their home base as well as to their Twitter and Facebook platforms. These updates are honest, sincere and to the point.
Their use of social media throughout the crisis
Although their crisis communications home base is the proper way to publish all official releases and updates regarding the crisis, we cannot deny the need to also push these updates and communications to social media. Social media provides an easy way to subscribe and monitor for news and updates in real-time.
Malaysia Airlines understands this need and is doing a great job at pushing all of their communications to both their Facebook and Twitter pages, while linking back to their home base for more information.
They’ve cleared both social media accounts from all images and color that can be distracting and inapropriate in this somber time; All that’s left is their logo and the color grey.
They’ve also halted all other types of communications and messages from their social media pages, which is an important (and often overlooked) step in the social media side of their crisis management.
Their official communications are lacking two important elements
There are currently two important elements missing from Malaysia Airlines’s crisis communications. These two elements are:
1) The airline does not encourage viewers to share their crisis communications
We would have liked to have seen the option for others to share the airline’s official statements and updates with their own followers and fans, by simply adding share buttons within the dark website’s pages. This would have provided viewers with an easy way to continue to share the airlines direct communications, furthering its reach.
2) Lack of crisis hashtags
Although the airline is using the hashtag #MASalert on some of their tweets and Facebook posts, they aren’t using it consistently, nor are they encouraging others to follow this specific hashtag. We would have also liked to have seen an effective use of this crisis hashtag within the airline’s official updates and releases published to their dark website, as this would have provided viewers with the knowledge of its use.
The hashtags #MalaysiaAirlines and #MH370 are trending right now and Malaysia Airlines should also be leveraging them within their own crisis communications and posts. Since these hashtags are being used and monitored by countless members of the airline’s audiences, it would be an effective communications strategy to make sure that their official responses and key message points are included within these feeds. If nowhere else, this should have been included within the airline’s Facebook posts and tweets.
Compassion and sincerity
Malaysia Airlines’s CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, is doing a good job at communicating compassion and sincerity, not just through his words (both written and spoken), but by the way the airline has been taking care of the grieving families. In a crisis you have to do more than just say that you care, you have to show that you care, and Malaysia Airlines is doing a good job at this.
[#MASalert] We’ll be retiring flight codes MH370 & MH371 as a mark of respect to the pax & crew of the missing MH370 http://t.co/xGT1P7SsHM
— Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) March 13, 2014
All in all…
Malaysia Airlines is doing a very good job at communicating with their audiences throughout this crisis. They’re meeting the expectations and demands that come with today’s connected and real-time world, and they’re exuding competence and leadership in a crisis that has rightfully captured the attention of the entire world.
Note from Agnes + Day’s Crisis Intelligence Team: Our hearts are with the families and friends of the victims of flight MH370. We’re joining the world in our prayer and hope that answers will soon be found.
There are many nay-sayers out there, but they don’t seem to have all of their facts in a row. Malaysia is different than the U.S. or North America as a whole. They have stricter rules to comply with. Malaysia Airlines is also not majority shareholder of the Parent Company, which is in fact the Malaysian Government. All of this is clarified within this excellent follow up post by Judith Delaney. It’s very interesting, informative and will hopefully help to open a lot of eyes.
Excellent analysis, but there's one flaw: Too many cooks in the kitchen. The Malaysian Air Force spokesman is saying different things at different points in time and contradicting his own previous statements! Others are injecting themselves into a crisis situation and making off-the-cuff, casual statements that only keep compounding the confusion and frustration.
As a CriCom professional, I do recognize that in the miasma of an evolving crisis, everyone, even with the good intention to help, hoping this will bring some clarity to the distraught families of passengers, can instead make things worse — an unintended consequence. But this is where the Airlines should have done a better job. It should have insisted that its their plane and their passenger, and so the primary responsibility of communication rests with them. All information/updates from different sources should be routed to them for an analysis of what's being said, and then speak with one voice — their spokesman's. But perhaps this is too much to ask — Malaysia is quite an authoritarian country and its citizens have been conditioned into accepting that "the government knows best." (This is a separate topic of discussion, but not at this time).
You're certainly right that all information needs to be confirmed before released to the public in a crisis, Lawrence. Internal communications between agencies, staff, etc. is extremely important – even more so today.
Everybody is a spokesperson for your organization, whether you intend them to be or not. This is a reality today – one that certainly has to be planned and trained for in advance. Internal communications would have been very important here, between agencies and organizations. Though no matter how hard we try, we can't control what others do or say. The most we can do is plan and train to work together, designate specific spokespeople, keep the lines of communication open and to hope that everyone is a responsible adult who understands the potential consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work for us in high profile crisis situations.
Thanks, Melissa; they will appreciate reading this.
My PR course just covered Crisis Communications Management. Your post added some good insight you can't find in a textbook.
I'm glad you found it valuable. To be honest, the text books needed to teach students everything they need to know today are still be written
Melissa excellent article! Would you continue to update the information about the case? I would like to read more of your analysis, when this crisis finish.
I've made a note for myself to remember.
Here's an update: /dont-know-malaysia-airlines-t…
I am retired now from PR and crisis communications, but the idea of one clear voice in this new world of social media is one huge aspect of communications during a crisis that really needs to be addressed in the world of PR today.
One thing that many people aren't realizing is that Malaysia is different than the U.S. or North America as a whole. They have stricter rules to comply with. There's more that people don't realize too… all is clarified within this excellent post by Judith Delaney. It's very interesting. /dont-know-malaysia-airlines-t…
Hi Melissa –
I agree with your analysis of this situation – which still unfolds every second into something different. There have been blunders, for sure, but there are so many more players in this. From governmental agencies, to different kinds of journalists – mainly Western – that the airline has not had enough experience dealing with. Top that off with the criss-crossed information coming from so many different angles, and it's a wonder they're managing it as well as they are! It's hard to manage a corporate reputation without throwing in misinformation that those perceive is yours on top of it! I think the public sometimes assumes commentary and speculation – such as the flight simulations and "what-if" scenarios the media is utilizing to fill air time – is reflective of the airline, and that is simply not the case. Nice analysis!
Best – Laurie