Crash Communication 2.0

Image Source: Day Donaldson: Flickr Creative Commons.

Image Source: Day Donaldson: Flickr Creative Commons.

MH370.  MH17. GE222 . AH5017. QZ8501. 4U9525.  

Two years ago this string of digits and numbers would have elicited blank stares. This would have seemed a complex riddle. Now we know this is a sequence of flight numbers representative of 869 lives fallen prey to an aviation freak show.  

There was no time for Airliners to gape in horror. Concerned parties needed to be addressed -immediately – in person and online. The only way to communicate compassion was by immediate action.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes set a precedent in utilising social media effectively as a crisis communication tool. His humane response to the  QZ8501 plane crash involved an ongoing social media dialogue from the tragedy onset. When interviewed by CNBC News regarding being more responsive on social media than most airlines in accident situations, Fernandes simply stated transparency involves hearing from the man in charge.

Fernandes effectively minimised reputational damage to AirAsia by “stealing thunder,” a strategy of vying to disclose crisis information first (Coombs, 2014).

The following statement was issued immediately on AiraAsia’s social media pages and personally retweeted by Fernandes:

Fernandes recognised that the aviation crisis “best practice” model based on the premise of a “Golden Hour” was outdated with citizen journalism. What was the “Golden Hour”?

This was the theoretical time within which the airline had an opportunity to establish itself as a trusted source and could attempt to define the story, before misinformation and speculation filled the void. Within that first hour, the airline would aim to assemble its crisis management team, start mobilising its resources and issue an initial “holding statement”. (John Bailey, ICON)

Fernandes additionally demonstrated genuine concern for families of victims in a timely fashion. In my previous post I described a disturbing new phenomena of hashtag activism, where compassion is confined to social media catch phrases. Yet, Fernandes’s tweets of sympathy were substantiated with action.

Fernandes did not just tweet the following, he supported his claim by providing his personal mobile number to victim’s families.

To sum it up  Fernandes handled the QZ8501  crash like a boss. As the crisis unfolded Communications Professor Hamish McLean told BloombergFernandes “understands that social media can save reputations in a crisis…, [and] is actually writing the textbook as we speak on how to do it properly.”


Coombs, Timothy. (2014). Crisis Management and Communications (Updated September 2014). Retrieved April 10, 2015 from


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