- Negative sentiment on social media for United Airlines increased 140% from March 12 to March 13 following the news that a 10-month-old French bulldog puppy died on a United flight after a flight attendant reportedly forced a passenger to put the dog's kennel in an overhead compartment, according to data from Digimind provided to Marketing Dive.
- Before the incident, service was the most positively discussed airline concern for United on March 12, with 230 mentions, but the following day, service became the most negatively talked about concern with 5,000 mentions. Negative conversation about United’s service continued on March 14 with 8,000 mentions.
- United continues to be the most talked-about airline on social media, dominating 89% of the conversation, according to Digimind. Negative sentiment surrounding the airline remained at 52%.
While United apologized for the latest incident involving the puppy’s death and admitted fault, the airline likely needs to do more to rein in customer sentiment and take control of spreading negative sentiment by listening and responding to what consumers are saying with solutions and reassurance, according to Digimind. Animal-lovers are a large consumer segment — and, like many cohorts these days, they tend to be active on social media calling out brands they love and hate. As a result, it is critical for the airline to act quickly and decisively — and in way that shows empathy and authenticity — if it is to avoid a longer-lasting downturn in sentiment that could damage the brand and undermine the effectiveness of its marketing efforts.
United Airlines has had a tough year on the PR front after several incidents involving the airline turned viral. One of the most memorable incidents was a viral video showing security dragging a screaming passenger off of a plane after a flight was overbooked. In each incident, consumers have turned to social media to call out the airline, and passengers have posted real-time photos and video documenting the situation. The large increase in negative chatter surrounding the company on social media shows how quickly a brand’s reputation can become tarnished.
Consumers wield a considerable power on social media and value transparency, which can make brands vulnerable to negative social media attention. Many often see social media as a tool for holding brands accountable for poor customer service or other behaviors that they see as inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. Brands need to constantly monitor their social media mentions to keep up with consumer sentiment and take action when something major happens to lessen the blow to the brand’s reputation or risk permanent damage.