United Kicked a Man Off A Plane — Here’s Why You Heard about It


The last month been especially challenging for United Airlines.

On April 9th, a United passenger captured a 31-second smartphone video showing a man being dragged, seemingly unconscious, through the center aisle of a plane departing from Chicago to Louisville. United later explained the incident as a response to overbooking the flight, where “one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate.”

Lucas Aulbach, a local crime reporter for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky saw the video and wrote a story that sparked a boycott, damaged a brand, and changed the way people think about flying. Here’s how:

The Headline Made for Social

“Video shows man forcibly removed from United flight from Chicago to Louisville” consumes 79 characters of Twitter’s 140 character limit. This leaves sixty-one characters for links, profane hashtags, calls to boycott, and more. From a social perspective, the headline was made to be shared.

Twitter users shared the headline and the link more than 18,000 times in 48 hours. This is more than 56 times the cumulative number of Twitter shares generated by the Courier-Journal in the previous 30 days. Additionally, the article earned over 42,000 interactions into Facebook. The Louisville Courier-Journal simply does not earn this amount of virality on stories they publish.

The Syndicate

Gannett operates over 100 daily and nearly 1,000 weekly newspapers, including USA Today as well as the Louisville Courier-Journal. It leverages its national newsroom to supply quality stories to local publications and vice-versa. The network publishes over 3,000 journalists who create content that is shared among sites within its network.

After the initial story ran, Gannett’s platform was able to syndicate the story across the network, driving traffic back to the Courier-Journal, boosting its virality.

The Influencers

The story circulated for hours before influencers took notice. Then, at 6AM on April 10th, Time’s Alex Fitzpatrick and CNBC’s Carl Quintana published tweets with their own perspectives on the story.

The story grew from 70 shares at 6:00AM local time to nearly 11,000 shares at 12:00PM based on the initial tweets of just two influencers. Over half the Twitter volume occurred within six hours.

Brandwatch, one of Turbine Labs’ key data partners, tracked over 2.5 million mentions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram over the next two days.

The Earned Media

On any given day, United Airlines earns approximately 500 media placements. Common topics include financial performance, the state of the airline industry, frequent flyer announcements, and credit card programs.

In two days this event earned over 6,000 unique media placements in the United States alone. RawStory published an article titled "'Just kill me’: Disturbing new video shows removed United passenger with his face covered in blood.” This story earned more than 71,000 social interactions alone. The event will be United's largest negative contributor in years.

Curating Through A Crisis

All brands experience crises. In general, the bigger the brand, the greater the impact of each event. The tried-and-true formula for managing crises still applies:

open communication + honesty + management of outrage + empathy = resolution

Each headline within this post represents a pivot point within the crisis where the amplification and impact of an event can be managed using analysis. Understanding how a narrative unfolds can help communications and marketing teams focus their efforts with specific reporters or publication networks to clarify positions.

Because so much “consolidation of attention” is driven by headlines phrases, rather than the depth of a story, outreach efforts can use a combination of traditional crisis response methods and social outreach methods to re-frame headlines, often steering the narrative of the entire topic.

Curated analysis and insights help brands dissect the pivot points within any event, understand the true narrative, and create rapid, appropriate responses.

Would any of the curated insights strategies have been effective in this particular crisis? What would the impact be if any of the pivot points were reduced, or managed earlier, by 5, 15, or 50%? Would the insights have been worth their investment? As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

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How Digital Curation Enhances the Value of Social Data

Over the last 10 years, the social data market sector has enabled a multitude of ways to understand how audiences interact with brands, organizations, political candidates, governments, and more. Social data platforms have expanded in functionality and complexity through investment and industry consolidation, while simultaneously adjusting to new and evolving data sources. In the case of Facebook and Twitter, the availability or restricted use of existing data sources has required platforms to divert from their original product roadmaps. Even with the changing data access landscape, social data platforms have access to a staggering amount of consumer and media content — data that needs to be collected, filtered, and processed into a usable format.

From an innovation perspective, and as a response to the amount of data available, much attention has been paid to enhancing and simplifying the user experience of these platforms with the goal of attracting and maintaining the widest possible audience of analysts, researchers, brand managers, subject matter experts, and others.

Attention has also been given to automating, as much as possible, the results delivered by these platforms once configured for an entity or use case. Fulfilling the ‘ease of use’ benefit that many platforms tout as differentiators, users have come to expect that producing and consuming useful insights should require no more than one or two clicks of a mouse.

At the same time, users of social data platforms continue to face headwinds when it comes to answering key value-oriented questions: What should we be measuring? What are the right KPIs? What is the expected outcome of the data we collect? Do reports generated by our chosen platform align to business goals? Are these insights actionable?

Access to massive amounts of data, the pressure users have placed on platform developers to simplify user experience, the expectation of automation, as well as the near real-time need for actionable intelligence, is driving the market to an inflection point — an inflection point that will change how these platforms are used to justify their investment.

Today, new questions are emerging that focus more on topical context and relevancy rather than vanity metrics such as audience growth and engagement rates. Yes, users of these platforms continue to measure, with good reason, how many shares and retweets their owned content generates. They continue to count earned media placements. They continue to plan and generate content with an expectation of virality.

But increasingly, brands, organizations, and governments are realizing that the definition of insights is achieved through a granular, contextual understanding of how audiences respond to a campaign or topic. Users need to be able to quickly and efficiently digitally curate massive amounts of data in a very short time to be able to extract truly relevant and actionable insights from the data.

Digital curation begins by configuring and tuning social data platforms to listen not only for a brand, organization, candidate, etc., but to categorize media and consumer conversations on a campaign-by-campaign or topic-by-topic basis. The output of these categorizations enables an analyst or researcher to make a baseline comparison against the total conversation as well as understand the overall sentiment of the topic.

The real value of digital curation comes from leveraging software to enable humans to quickly analyze and process a subset of the categorized data to determine the tone, narrative, and impact of the campaign or topic as a whole. The software offers access to the data, while humans extract unique, contextual elements of the data to make it useful and actionable. Through digital curation, the reporting of insights becomes more than just raw performance numbers on a campaign or topic. Results can be presented in a more persuasive way by presenting stakeholders with what consumers, media, and competitors are actually saying within the context of a topic — similar to a comment card.

By integrating digital curation tools and processes into today’s highly advanced social data platforms, users can more quickly define what should be measured and what should be ignored. They can settle in on a concise, realistic set of KPIs. They can align social data more succinctly to business goals. And, most importantly, they can justify the investment in social data by finding unique ‘needles in the haystack’ that often cannot be found via any other type of business intelligence or research platforms.

Originally published on Big Boulder Initiative.