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Posted on Fri 6th Sep, 2013 in: Crisis Management, Influence, Issues Management, Public Relations, Social Media by Phil Reed

It cost him a reported $1,000 to get his dad's luggage back, but the worldwide coverage Hasan Syed achieved this week for his Twitter attack on British Airways has opened up a fresh debate on how brands deal with customer service issues, and the role social media can play in highlighting those issues. It also gave BA something of a PR headache for what was, essentially, a pretty trivial issue. Mr Syed is certainly not the first person to lose a bag after a flight, nor is he the first to have been frustrated by an airline's perceived lack of speed in getting the luggage back to the passenger. In that situation, most people on social media might fire off a tweet to the airline or post something on its Facebook page in the hope of getting attention. Hasan Syed, however, took his digital fist-banging to a different level. He coughed up the cash for a sponsored tweet, which allowed him to target tens of thousands of people in New York and London - two of BA's key centres - who had also tweeted about the airline. The next day, his dad's luggage was returned.

Syed tweet

As it's believed to be the first time an individual has used a sponsored tweet to complain about a brand, his action created a worldwide stir. His tweet was re-tweeted, posted and pinned thousands of times. News organisations around the world picked up the story. Hasan Syed may only have targeted New York and London, but his story was written everywhere from Australia to India. And social media commentators hurriedly debated whether this would mean a re-think for how brands deal with disgruntled customers in social media. PR-wise, it was certainly embarrassing for BA - particularly as it took the airline several hours to respond to the tweet - but it's unlikely to cause any long-term damage. It will, however, force them to re-think their approach to customer service in social media. And BA won't be the only one. Sponsored tweets take a complaint way beyond the brand's own Twitter page, which means brands will have to be even more alert with their social media monitoring. Plus, as Mr Syed demonstrated, paid-for tweets can be geo-targeted. Want to reach thousands of Twitter users in Leicester? Easy. And perhaps not as expensive as you might have thought? So it may have been an expensive way to get a suitcase back, but Mr Syed's influence on how big brands deal with customer complaints could be both significant and long-term. And given that a customer service issue in social media has the potential to create damaging PR fall-out, brands' crisis PR strategies will need to be revisited in light of this week's high-profile tweet. For that reason, Hasan Syed is our PR Influencer of the Week. Let's hope he doesn't complain about it!

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