The global grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft is the sort of public relations nightmare that no global company would want to face: multiple product problems, from fuel leaks to cracked windscreens and battery fires, across multiple regulatory regimes in Japan, Europe, India and the U.S. It is a situation ripe for spinning out of a company’s control, and a complex challenge for any company’s repetitional crisis managers.
It is one Boeing’s are not meeting well online, according to Bowen Craggs, a London-based corporate website consultancy known for its annual index of corporate website effectiveness in partnership with the Financial Times. Boeing’s delayed online reaction to the unfolding series of problems with its Dreamliner “betrays a crisis of understanding,” the firm says.
Boeing’s web site now has a home page link to its statement about the Dreamliner situation, but that first appeared on January 16 — after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued its grounding order. Between January 8th, the day of the first news reports of the latest wave of incidents, and January 15th, the day of the emergency landing of a Japan Airlines 787, the company’s Twitter feed carried just four tweets, two linking to its marketing blog (a barely used resource in this case, though its has been going for eight years), one to a press release, and only one, on the 15th, a direct comment on the situation. It has managed as many again in the 24 hours since then.
What to make of the initial weakness of Boeing’s online response, and what lessons does that hold for other multinationals? Bowen Craggs suggests several non-exclusive interpretations:
- that that message has not yet got home to senior management at Boeing;
- that it still relies on a conservative approach that served it well for decades;
- that its lawyers are holding it back;
- or that it takes intervention from its own government to focus its mind–itself not a reputation-bolstering impression to leave.
The internet is now a critical channel for protecting any company’s reputation in a crisis. To little, too late is a sign that a company does not really get the dynamics of the medium.