Travelocity’s Good Deed Goes….Punished

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    Sarcasm becomes reality for Travelocity

    The old, sardonic phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” isn’t exactly true. Doing good for your stakeholders is a great way to sink roots into your community and grow your reputation. The lesson that Travelocity should learn from its latest social media misstep is that “no incautious good deed goes unpunished.”

    Travelocity set out with all the right intentions. Speaking at a conference for the National Federation of the Blind, Senior VP of Travelocity’s global strategy and project innovation promoted the company’s new vision-impaired-friendly website, and offered attendees a $200 discount on their next booking.

    Things started to get out of control when the NFB shared (and Travelocity RT’d) the code for the discount via Twitter, but forgot to stipulate that it was for attendees only. Unfortunately for Travelocity, there are several million people on Twitter that weren’t at that conference, and quite a few of them thought they would go ahead and use the discount code themselves. The situation got even worse when several other travel sites across the ‘net picked up the code, but without the qualifying text, leading many buyers to believe it was a public discount.

    In a US News and World Report article by Danielle Kurtzleben, BCM president Jonathan Bernstein shared his thoughts on the use of online media to push proactive work:

    “Mass media online has dramatically increased the need for thought and planning before you do any proactive work,” says Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, a California-based consulting firm. “Something can go viral in minutes, and unless you are a) monitoring it very closely to catch those things and try to respond very quickly and b) have an infrastructure to respond quickly, you can quickly get overwhelmed.”

    Travelocity had neither, and it was only after several days that a spike in use of the coupon code was spotted, leading the company to cancel the discounted reservations that were not attributed to NFB conference attendees. The company made another mistake when it sent out letters stating that full cancellation fees would be charged for those who used the coupon erroneously, and only retracted that statement after a flood of furious stakeholders took to Facebook and Twitter to voice their complaints.

    The NFB’s PR director spoke out in support of Travelocity, but the damage was done. Will this break Travelocity? No. The company is successful and generally well-liked. Has this incident created a weak spot in the company’s reputation that could lead to major problems if such a mistake is made again? Absolutely. We’d bet good money that Travelocity has already made changes to its social media policy, and will be curious to see when it ventures into this arena next.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training, and co-host of The Crisis Show. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]