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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

The Makings of a Great Social Media Crisis Plan, part 1: Boingo

26 Mar

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, then you’re well aware of what can happen to your business if you find yourself caught unprepared and faced with a social media crisis. We’re talking serious reputation damage, loss of customers and a monumental blow to your business’ bottom line – but you already knew that!

But what about the smart brands who were prepared with a crisis communication strategy? The ones whose crises could have very well gone viral, but instead, odds are that you probably never even hear of them? What did they do right, and how can you give your brand the same advantages when you find yourself faced with a social media attack?

This week I’m going to write about three brands who are all lucky enough to share one thing in common: they were surprised with a social media crisis and (the lucky part) they were prepared for it with a social media crisis plan. These three companies are:

It’s not just about telling you their story. It’s about outlining the strategies that they put forward allowing them to, not just survive these crises, but come out of them with a sense of humor, and even more happy and loyal fans then they had going in. Now there’s something worth learning about!

So for today, let’s start with Boingo’s story of how they overcame a social media crisis in under 6 hours, on an understaffed Saturday afternoon

The Boingo low-down
Boingo is a U.S. Wifi service provider whose main clientele consists of business travelers. Since their services are primarily used during regular business hours, their social media activity is typically scarce during the weekends. None-the-less, Boingo, being smart in their social media marketing affairs, employs a full-time social media monitor whose job it is to monitor all online discussions about the brand, 24/7. Her name is Baochi Nguyen.

On Saturday, April 10th 2010, Baochi decided to check the company’s twitter feed, which is a regular part of her everyday routine. However, this Saturday in particular was anything from regular. As she checked the company’s Twitter mentions, Baochi noticed a series of tweets that all seemed to negatively mention the same issue. An issue which she was completely in the dark about. The tweets went along the lines of:

“Boingo, please stop spamming me.”

Baochi may not have understood why the tweets were coming in, but she did understand that this was highly abnormal behavior that demanded immediate attention. As her training instructed, she immediately contacted both the Director of Corporate Communications, Christian Gunning, and the company’s email initiative team, alerting them of the crisis.

Once all necessary people were filled in, Baochi began to respond to each and every tweet, letting their clients know that the company was aware of the situation and that they were in the process of looking into it.

It took approximately an hour, but the problem was finally detected. A third party email software had accidentally delivered a test email to Boingo’s clients, wrongfully alerting them that their accounts had been cancelled. This may seem simple enough, but between the email conundrum and the complaints and tweets circulating the Twitter-sphere, Boingo unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of a social media crisis.

A+ for Internal communication
As the problem was detected, Gunning proceeded to update their customer care team in real-time, so that all emails and calls coming into the company could be addressed and responded to appropriately. Aside from this, Boingo issued an internal company email to alert all personnel of the issue – understanding that the entire company needed to respond as a team if they were going to survive the crisis in record time.

Boingo’s public response to the crisis
When it came to their confused and upset clients, Boingo was sure to cover all angles, making sure that no one was left in the dark once the problem had been detected. Their brilliant response strategy went as follows:

  • The homepage of their corporate website was quickly updated to include a full apology.
  • The company’s CEO, Dave Hagan, published a blog post, once again apologizing to their clients for any inconvenience the faulty email may have caused them.
  • Baochi then wrote a much more thorough blog post, answering all common questions and concerns and publishing it to the corporate blog.
  • Comments were enabled on both blog posts, giving their clients a platform to voice their thoughts and concerns and opening up a line for two-way discussions. (A total of 87 comments were received, many of which were by Boingo’s advocates.)
  • They provided their loyal and still-happy clients with a platform to come to their defense, helping them regain control of the situation.

Their efforts were more than paid off
Because of the brilliant way Boingo handled the crisis – from beginning to end – it took a total of 6 hours, from the time Baochi identified the crisis to the time it was completely resolved and filed away with yesterday’s news. It may have came on an unexpected, and understaffed Saturday afternoon, but because of Boingo’s social media monitoring tools, personnel and mindset, the crisis was detected and stabilized in record time.

“Ultimately, I think we got more positive feedback about how we handled it than we got negative feedback about the problem itself.” – Christian Gunning, Director of Corporate Communications.

What lessons did you take away from Boingo’s social media crisis and the excellent way they handled the situation? Share your thoughts and opinions with me below!


  1. Quora - April 1, 2012

    What company has successfully used social media to address a company crisis?…

    Hi there, I’m a little late to this question, but if you’re still looking for some great examples of companies who have used social media to come out of a public crisis, I’ve got some really great case studies over on my blog: Fontaine Santé did an …

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