In what will likely be remembered as the biggest social media blunder of all time, US Airways tweeted a photo of a naked female engaged in a sex act with a toy airplane on Monday.
The airline was responding to a customer complaint about a flight delay via Twitter. But instead of including a link to a customer feedback form, the graphic photo was posted. US Airways deleted the photo (but not before it went viral) and tweeted an apology: “We apologize for an inappropriate image recently shared as a link in one of our responses. We’ve removed the tweet and are investigating.”
Later, in a statement, the company said it was trying to flag the image as inappropriate (someone had sent the image to the airline), but mistakenly included it in a message. US Airways has 426,000 Twitter followers… and climbing. It hasn’t tweeted since the apology.
Here’s the chatter on the blunder:
Philip Bump @ The Wire
“The list of things that would be worse to tweet is short enough that we feel comfortable awarding the airline All-Time First Place Victor in Worst Corporate Social Media #Brand Strategy… A graphic image of an airplane jammed into a woman’s genitalia is on the outside margins of how completely terribly you could mess up. Sitting here, I’ve thought of a few things that would be less appropriate, but then I think, are they?”
Nick Hearne @ We Are Social (speaking to the U.K.’s Marketing Magazine)
“Trust is necessary to produce brilliant responsive social content. Reply quickly and problems and complaints can be tackled before they snowball. The US Airways tweet yesterday is an example of the kind of rogue posting that will likely break this trust between clients and social media managers. US Airways have an opportunity to turn this bad situation around and dig themselves out of this social hole. A few well-considered tweets could face the issue head on and convert this faux pas into new followers and brand love.”
Frank Eliason @ LinkedIn Influencer
“This is social media. I know we often take the impact it has quite seriously, but the fact is no one was hurt. Yes the brand has a short-term blip for people to laugh at but I doubt there will be much impact to the amount of people flying with the airline. I hope the airline, as well as other businesses, learn from this and work with vendors to ensure there are safeguards in place to help prevent things like this.”
Reader comment @ The Washington Post
“Considering how the airlines have made it a priority to screw their customers every chance they get, I’d say the picture is more along the lines of truth in advertising.”