American Airlines’ Twitter Threat: A Lesson in Community Management

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Airlines are used to receiving complaints via Twitter.  Bomb threats, maybe not. That is why when a user believed to be a Dutch teen named Sarah tweeted a terrorist threat to American Airlines, it made national news within minutes.

“Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

This was the tweet sent by user @QueenDemetriax_ (the account has since been suspended). American Airlines quickly responded with:

“Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”

American Airlines replies to tweets typically within an hour, and they typically respond to everyone — negative or not. Sarah’s tweet was no different than any other tweet for an account that has high Twitter traffic — the tweet warranted a swift response. Unbeknownst to American Airlines, the tweet from Sarah would gain her close to 30,000 followers.

After the threat turned Sarah into a Twitter star, American Airlines deleted their response to her to focus more on their customers. While it is not certain if the brand necessarily pushed for further investigation, but the Dutch police did arrest the girl. Bye bye, Sarah.

From this situation, we can learn two important lessons about crisis management from American Airlines:

1. Take your customers seriously.

It is always better to be safe than sorry. Every customer complaint may come from a very valid place, even if it seems to just be a harmless teen. Complaints, compliments, questions all warrant responses or some form of engagement from your brand.

2. Don’t feed too much into instigators.

Sarah (or a random internet user posing as a girl named Sarah, the Demi Lovato fangirl) is not just an example of a teen Twitter user, but an online instigator. These users will try to gain as much fame as they can by interacting with your brand. American Airlines was right in responding at first, and then removing their response later on to focus on others. Once it is clear that a user just wants attention, it is OK to break off engagement.

Would you have handled the Sarah situation differently? Let us know in the comments.