What do you do when your airline has lost your luggage and won’t respond to any of your calls or emails? If you’re business traveler Hasan Syed, you buy a promoted tweet on Twitter and unleash your fury in front of the glassy eyes of the Twitterverse.
After British Airways allegedly misplaced the bags of Syed’s father following a flight from Chicago to Paris this past weekend, the man paid for a “sponsored tweet” Monday to broadcast his frustration directly to British Airways’ more than 300,000 Twitter followers.
“Don’t fly @BritishAirways,” Syed tweeted. “Their customer service is horrendous.”
That tweet, which cost Syed $1,000, appeared in a prominent position on British Airway’s Twitter feed in the New York City and UK markets for several hours Monday night and was subsequently read by thousands of users on the social media platform. In fact, the tweet had nearly 76,800 impressions and 14,600 engagements by Tuesday night.
But Syed did not stop there. The businessman, who uses the handle @HVSVN, followed up with a series of subsequent tweets directed at British Airways and its customer service team.
"British Airways is the worst airline ever. Lost my luggage & can't even track it down. Absolutely pathetic." He also wrote, "Thanks for ruining my EU business trip #britishairways. I shouldn't have flown @BritishAirways. Never flying with you again."
His tirade continued with tweets to @British_Airways, the brand’s global account: “I refuse to stop running Twitter Ads until @British_Airways finds the lost luggage,” he wrote, followed by: “7 Hours & counting with no response from @British_Airways. Guess they don’t care about customer service or Twitter, LOL.”
Other users quickly rallied around Syed. “Hey @British_Airways: Good PR = responding to @HVSVN with an apology and information. Bad PR = what you are doing,” Twitter user @whiskeypants wrote.
Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing and commercial at rival JetBlue Airways, also chimed in: “Interesting; a disgruntled customer is buying a promoted tweet slamming a brand where they had a bad experience. That’s a new trend itself,” he tweeted.
Eight hours later, when news sites like Mashable began to pick up on the story, representatives from British Airways finally responded, claiming that their Twitter feed was open only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. GMT. Many Twitter users, however, were not amused, openly wondering why the global airline would not have a dedicated 24-hour social media team.
Kim McKay, director of Sydney-based Klick Communications, said British Airways’ public relations and social media team needs to be “always on” if they’re committed to their customers. “Some businesses might be able to get away with 9-to-5 social media, but many in the travel industry cannot. Customers are traveling 24/7 and a business that has determined that social media is the right place for them needs to be able to respond in real time.”
While consumers often use social media to voice their complaints, Syed’s case could represent one of the first times where a customer used paid content to do so. McKay said this shows that businesses need to move away from the notion that they own the conversation around their brand; consumers do. “Whatever social media tools are available to businesses are also available to consumers -- including sponsored tweets and posts.”
Promoted tweets are typically purchased by advertisers looking to reach a wider audience, and are given high prominence in the Twitter feed of the relevant company. They look and act just like regular tweets, though a small orange arrow tells you they’re promoted.
For Syed, it appears the paid gimmick achieved its intended effect. Not only did it get the public talking about British Airways and customer service in general, but the bag is now on its way back to its owner.
“We would like to apologize to the customer for the inconvenience caused,” British Airways said in a statement Tuesday. “We have been in contact with the customer and the bag is due to be delivered today.”
British Airways is a subsidiary of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (LSE:IAG).