As Malaysia Airlines struggles to stay aloft following the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean and the downing of Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, the airline’s Facebook page and Twitter accounts have become something of a public condolence book as well as a brand rebuilding strategy.
A spokesperson for Malaysia Airlines confirmed the importance of social media to their go-forward communications strategy. “Social media has been one of the crucial tools at our disposal in managing the aftermath of MH17. It’s also a source of comfort for many of our followers and staff members who shared their grief, their kind words of encouragement and their support through our digital channels. In addition, we feel we are able to begin the healing process in a small way through the sharing of uplifting messages as we are able to relate to the grief felt by those affected by this unimaginable act.
"Indeed, we feel that social media has turned a corner into maturity and will be one of our key communication tools moving forward.”
The Malaysia Airlines strategy may be working. Messages from people who say they will continue to fly the troubled carrier fill Malaysia Airline's Facebook and Twitter pages despite a steady parade of negative news.
Supporters from around the world began posting their condolences and messages of support when the airlines launched its #staystrong campaign on Twitter in late July with the message: “Tough times do not last, tough people do” over the image of two flight attendants holding hands. The company’s website now features the tag line: "Our Strength Is You," which is a nod to the brand's social media campaign.
The #straystrong message went viral, according to the International Business Times, which claimed the Twitter tagline marked the first time the struggling airline used social media to express emotional messages instead of as a platform for official company announcements.
The company has added another message to Facebook and Twitter, #flyinghigh, which is attracting its share of positive remarks.
But public sympathy can only go so far in social media damage control and as a brand rebuilding tool. The business realities of running an unprofitable airline continue to dominate headlines. Last Friday, Malaysia Airlines was delisted on the Malaysian stock exchange in a restructuring bid to stay flying.
With that announcement, the company began posting messages saying it is strongly committed to serving their customers amid reports that routes may be cut back to save money.
Some industry observers say the airline’s restructuring is long overdue and should include reducing staff numbers and unprofitable local routes, both politically sensitive issues.
And there have also been widespread reports that the company is considering renaming itself as it emerges from the twin tragedies of Flights 370 and 17.
Until then, Malaysia Airlines will continue its #flyinghigh strategy.