As Air Asia grapples with the crash of Flight QZ8501, we consider that the airline has taken a humanizing stance in its communication during the crisis. Air Asia’s communication strategies are commendable and a sharp contrast from that of Malaysia Airlines’ handling of their MH370 crisis which led to calls for its Group CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya to step down from his position. Unlike Air Asia, MAS’ approach was criticised for an air of secrecy and people being kept in dark.
With pending investigations, we do not know for sure now to what extend Air Asia can be faulted for the incident. But what we do know is that their response has been nothing short of perfect.
Timely, spot-on usage of social media
Following information on the crash, Air Asia Group CEO, Tony Fernandes immediately took to Twitter for updates on the plane. Reactions to the outpouring of positive messages relayed on the social media platform by Fernandes was immediate. Moreover, the constant updates from Air Asia’s corporate head itself surely diffuses unwarranted rumours from forming.
The live stream of reassuring tweets by Air Asia and Fernandes, in the thick of official media statements and news reports, does provide a sense of support and empathy to all those watching the crisis unfold. Furthermore, Air Asia had been timely in reproducing its media statements for its Facebook page.
The line of communication through social media remains open, and it was never broken.
From cheerful to solemn: A brand’s versatile switch of personality
Meanwhile, Air Asia logos shifted from its usual bright red to a monochrome gray in all its social media platforms, including its website – a simple gesture but demonstrating much weight amid the crisis. The website now carries an “Updates on Air Asia flight QZ8501” banner and link right on its homepage. In the immediate aftermath, Fernandes took off his signature red cap as a reflection of the turbulent time Air Asia is facing, and showed a broken man, grieving.
Espousing the brand-as-person narrative, Air Asia connected its current circumstance to its brand character. The brand’s appearance immediately took on a more solemn nature, disassociating itself from its original cheerful brand persona. The tragedy is reflected in how the brand presented itself in its now-grey logo, and with that associations of grieving. There is absolutely no denial or reproach to the crisis in its manner of character.
It has also proven that it did not have to trade its original voice in the process. As it is, we are experiencing Air Asia as it manoeuvers through the tragedy.
When the whole world is looking at you, you better make sure your actions are right. Fernandes’ actions certainly matched his tweets, when he met families of the victims personally to speak to them at Juanda International Airport, Surabaya. He tweeted, “On my way to Surabaya where most of the passengers are from as with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it.” Another note-worthy mention is that he flew to Palembang as an escort to the family of a QZ8501 crew member.
More than that, the Air Asia team communicated the crisis swiftly with detail. There was no reluctance in divulging crucial information which have been attributed to the Indonesian government’s grasp on the search and rescue mission. It’s been cited in Ad Age that, “the Indonesians haven’t been as secretive or defensive, or as hostile toward outside criticism” as compared to Malaysia’s handle on their MH370 mission. Coupled with Fernades’ decisive hands-on approach to the crisis from the get-go, this has been crucial to Air Asia’s current position in the eyes of the world.
Being human: A brand’s ultimate way in connecting through tough times.
The message communicated by Fernandes’ and his team were heartfelt and sincere. Circulated media reports have praised Fernandes’ emotional gestures, and Air Asia has been drawing positive feedback from the public over its handling of the crisis. In a Wall Street Journal article, he was quoted as saying, “I apologize profusely for what they are going through. I am the leader of this company. I take responsibility.”
Again, he tweeted, “Keeping positive and staying strong. My heart bleeds for all the relatives of my crew and our passengers. Nothing is more important to us.” In another tweet he says, “The warmth and support from the people of Indonesia has been incredible. Everywhere I go. Nothing but pure support.” These messages have been very personal, very real and very touching, adding such a human element to Air Asia’s whole communication strategy. Indeed in crisis, messages signalling care and concern are the kinds we respond to most kindly.
The model for any crisis
In an insight drawn from Hilton + Knowlton strategies, they cite research by Oxford Metrica, which has identified five characteristics that help companies emerge successfully from a crisis namely preparation, leadership, action, communication and sensitivity.
From this, it would seem that Air Asia was prepared to tackle the crisis head-on with no messages that beat around the bush. Every airline should have a set of actions planned out so they know exactly what to do if crisis should happen.
The Air Asia team was led by Fernandes’, who displayed great leadership in taking charge of the brand’s response to the whole situation. His messages to the world have been inspiring, lending credibility to the Air Asia brand.
Air Asia’s actions have also been decisive thus far, demonstrating a strong grip on the nature of the crisis. Leaping into action is what set them apart from Malaysia Airlines, including a no holds barred attitude towards communicating the incident.
Which leads us to conclude that Air Asia’s communication has been open and frequent throughout. Its messages, which quite rightly comes from a need to regain trust with the public, have been well-coordinated and well-received.
With Fernandes leading the helm in relaying compassion, they have demonstrated a sensitivity to the situation that is often missing in top-down communication from large corporate figures.
By following these actions from Fernandes and the Air Asia team, we definitely find something worth learning in their strategy. Its compassionate messages, on a frequent basis are exemplary. This demonstrates that in times of crisis, the best plan of action is one that is done with sincerity and care. Air Asia has thus far proven to have be a valuable local role model in crisis communications.
Vivian Lines, Dec 30 2014, “AirAsia CEO Puts the Compassion Back Into Crisis Communications”
The Star, Dec 31 2014, “AirAsia QZ8501: Fernandes draws positive feedback with personal touch”
James Hookway, Dec 29 2014, “Disappearance of AirAsia Flight 8501 Tests High-Profile CEO”
Jake Maxwell Watts and Anita Rachman, Dec 30 2014, “Debris Discovery Dashes Hope for Relatives of AirAsia Passengers”
Hannah Kozlowska, Dec 28 2014, “Here’s how AirAsia’s CEO is handling his airline’s first major crisis”