Social Media in Aviation Crisis Management


In the last decade, social media has experienced a paradigm shift as an online communication category where content is created, shared, bookmarked, and networked at a prodigious speed. This report examines social media tools to comprehend how they are utilized to facilitate analytical response capabilities by airlines for effective crisis management and emergency response. The paper explores the main social media roles in aviation crisis management and emergency response. These functions are mapped in the primary crisis and response phases in aviation, which are preparedness, response, and recovery. Several case study airlines are mentioned in relation to the effective use of social media in managing past crises and emergency response strategies.

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Crisis Management in the Aviation Industry and Social Media

As a critical function of an airline, crisis management involves strategic planning and proactive incident response to unpredictable situations as they unfold. These events have cascading effects that may undermine an airline’s ability to effectively operate in addition to causing serious harm to reputation, assets, structures, and customers (Cohn 2014). The emergence of a plethora of different social media tools has redefined the crisis management landscape in the aviation industry in the last ten years with possibilities for a quantifiable social action quickly becoming a reality. With the advent of many online software tools such as news aggregators and discussion platforms, airlines are now in a position to acquire, disseminate, and review information more comprehensively and efficiently (Coombs 2014).

For instance, effective use of social media tools could prevent a developing crisis from escalating out of control because of its ability to efficiently aggravate a situation when it is unfolding. As a catalyst, social media is undeniably a force for communication and planning in the modern aviation industry. This is because the speed of its impact is fast and predictable. Ultimately, social media is a critical tool that can instigate positive outcomes through accelerating and facilitating the breath and speed of communication, when utilized properly. Specifically, social media is an instrumental aspect of crisis preparedness, response, and recovery in the aviation industry.

Comprehending the Social Media Landscape in the Aviation Industry

According to Haddow and Haddow (2013, p. 41), “social media devoid of purpose and content would do little to enable people to prepare, respond and recover in the face of disasters”. Since social media facilitates communication and social interaction via the online Internet-based platforms, the aviation industry may use different tools such as bookmarking sites, social blogs and networks, content communities, collaborative projects, and social reviews to develop and plan different crisis management and emergency response strategies. For instance, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are significant tools for channeling communication in the form of relevant updates about unfolding situations during a crisis is the aviation industry.

Bookmarking sites are the airline websites where information could be posted, stored, shared, and classified using ‘folksonomy techniques’ (Haddow & Haddow 2013). This means that the visibility of websites of different airlines could be increased when people share and tag content. Collaborative projects such as communal databases are instrumental in generating and sharing content with the global Internet community. Moreover, content communities such as YouTube and Flickr are ideal for sharing different information such as videos, audio, and photos. Lastly, social reviews are websites enabling users to rate, share, and search information besides providing recommendations (Zhi & Kaoru 2017). Thus, social reviews could be used to influence inclinations and perceptions at the mass-market level. Unlike traditional media forms that are restricted to a place and limited in reach, the above social media tools are capable of overcoming place barriers to reach and influence the perception of many people within a shorter time.

In terms of unique characteristics of social media tools, the aviation industry may gain through differential effect in the application when disseminating information internally or externally before, during, and after a crisis to take full command of every situation. In contrast to traditional media that limiting, social media tools have the merit of increased ‘collectivity’, which serves to connect the entire global population irrespective of time zones or geographical boundaries via various common platforms. This wider appeal may be used to foster the expansion of online communities by airlines, depending on the interest at hand (Haddow & Haddow 2013). Connectivity traits may enable airlines to reach users through a single link that can be shared. Since social media is capable of capturing contributions from many users and storing them in a persistent state, the aviation industry is empowered to exploit the complete nature of this communication tool to effectively manage crisis and respond to an emergency (Coombs 2014). Moreover, the clarity nature of social media websites makes it highly visible and content posted may quickly go viral. Besides, social media encourages collaborative interaction in different online platforms through feedback tracking.

Harnessing Different Social Media Tools: Augmenting Capabilities in Crisis Management and Emergency Response within the Aviation Industry

Crises with the aviation industry are complex and characterized by disproportionate impacts changing at varying speeds. Through the effective harnessing of social media tools, airlines are able to significantly enhance their organizational capacities in demonstrating resilience in responding to these crises. For instance, social media platforms could be used to create new avenues for active collaboration to create strong communities in the short and long term (Haddow & Haddow 2013). At the onset of any crisis, responders and managers may be able to access information from social blogs and networks to identify its source and severity. This information may then be distributed consistently among affected communities. Moreover, as links and other consistent resources are shared and tagged, crisis managers can evaluate its magnitude from the recommendations made by experts. This means that social media is a critical tool in gathering and search for information besides responding to preceding developments promptly.

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Social media tools may also be used by airlines to expand their online community capacity in preparing and anticipating crises. For instance, the collaborative project sites could be expediently initiated in different social media platforms to empower expert communities with “a rich database of content to analyze and validate the information that could support intervention opportunities during a crisis” (Austin & Jin 2017, p. 56). Moreover, the aviation industry crisis responders, and managers will be in a position to effectively monitor these content communities to highlight any potential hotspots or emerging trends, which are flashpoints in crisis management. Over time, different crisis management groups in the aviation industry will be able to timely mine different databases for relevant content based on social reviews to pinpoint themes and concerns being conveyed online (Hatcliffe 2018). At the same time, the crisis management committee may contact the key contributors to gain insightful feedback for supplementary investigation.

Understanding social media’s role in crisis management and emergency response requires examining its purpose, core activity, stakeholders, information content, treatment of information, software tools, and output (Fla 2014). In terms of purpose, social media is ideal in engaging a wider aviation community using different interactive and creative social platforms to increase association with like-minded people for effective response. The aspect of core activity is significant in generating actionable knowledge using the robust capabilities on social media platforms to sustain timely insights and decision-making systems. It is inherent to bring all stakeholders on board since a single airline cannot have a monopoly of information.

This means that an ideal crisis management strategy involves collecting a myriad of information that is transmitted to different audiences using social platforms (Austin & Jin 2017). Therefore, the aviation industry may use social media to undertake a strategic ‘crowdsourcing’ as an alternative in gathering different perspectives of resulting challenges and their effective or innovative solutions to enhance crisis management and emergency response. The element of information content is critical in analyzing emerging issues as a result of a crisis and its effects. Focusing on discrete data is not sufficient in generating meaningful insights that might be used to guide response to a crisis (Hatcliffe 2018). Thus, social media capabilities are ideal in enabling aviation industry crisis managers to review existing interdependences of factual discrete data to foster a comprehensive knowledge of the emergent effects of these emerging issues.

Adopting different social media platforms that have capabilities of supporting information sharing and transparency in aviation industry crisis management may facilitate proactive streamlining and integration of response processes to meet stakeholders’ information needs and improve the accuracy and speed of crisis communication. According to Hayes and Kotwica (2013, p. 87), “a crisis response formulated by considering special assessments, stakeholder perspectives and crowdsourced opinions using social media would enable stakeholders to make better decisions”. For instance, unlike in-house systems used by airlines that cannot be integrated with external networks, social media has many open-source platforms laden with flexible tools for gathering information. These platforms also equip crisis responders with management capabilities for enhanced workstreams and analytical processes.

Applying Social Media Tools in Crisis Management and Emergency Response

The process of crisis management and emergency response in the aviation industry is categorized into three phases, which are crisis preparedness, crisis, response, and crisis recovery. In these phases, as captured in figure 1, social media tools are significant in information gathering, disaster training, and planning, collaborative decision-making and problem-solving, and information dissemination.

Social media roles in crisis management and emergency response in the aviation industry.
Figure 1. Social media roles in crisis management and emergency response in the aviation industry (source: Hayes & Kotwica 2013).

In the phase of crisis preparedness, which is focused on primary preventive activities aimed at reducing known and unknown risks that might escalate into a crisis, social media could be used as a tool for providing information on training and planning the existing crisis management teams in the aviation industry. At the crisis response phase, social media could be used to speed up the initial response strategies for general effectiveness (Zhi & Kaoru 2017). For instance, social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could be used by airlines to communicate situational awareness, which is an essential aspect of proportional response in the event of a crisis. Using these social networks is critical, especially in engaging the stakeholder networks as part of data gathering, analysis, and timely dissemination of information. Moreover, the crisis recovery phase in the aviation industry is very complex since it requires strategic and prolonged planning to effectively restore the crisis situation back to normalcy.

Information dissemination through social media in aviation crisis management and emergency response is an ideal platform for the provision of reliable information to crisis responders. For instance, this information facilitates proactive preparedness in responding to a crisis situation. This means that information dissemination effectiveness is dependent on penetration and research of relevant social media platforms. For instance, Malaysia was able to provide information via social media during the management of an air accident over Syria in 2013. Based on information gathered, crisis responders were empowered by the disseminated communication through a focused and streamlined response mechanism (Fla 2014).

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Social media is a significant tool in disaster planning and training within the aviation industry. This platform has ‘gamification’ leverages that could be tapped for planning and facilitating training to proactively promote scenario, personnel, and collaborative exercises during or before a crisis. Social media sites could be used to manage the partnering agencies during the crisis by enhancing risk handling practices. For instance, the Cubana de Aviacion Flight 972 accident on May 18th, 2018 was effectively handled through a social media site created to bring together aviation disaster response experts (Hatcliffe 2018). These groups were able to work as a team to quickly address the crisis and develop recommendations that will be essential in handling a similar occurrence in the future.

Crowdsourcing via social media may facilitate collaborative problem-solving or decision-making in aviation crisis management and emergency response. Specifically, crisis responders have an access to various information streams available on web-based and mobile technologies “to fill the perceived sense-making and information gaps as well as to aggregate, analyze and plot data about urgent crisis needs” (Coombs 2014, p. 49). Over time, the knowledge base will grow and response authorities will be in a position to better respond and manage different scenarios leading to a crisis. For example, airlines across the globe have made it a policy on situational awareness as driven by emerging trends to guarantee an informed decision-making process when handling the crisis.

Since information gathering is an important aspect of disaster assessment, airlines across the globe may use social media to effectively coordinate any response. For instance, Emirates Airline has integrated the use of a social community platform that has capabilities of leveraging mobile texts, emails, and applications on smartphones to enable all the stakeholders to communicate their perceptions, concerns, and thoughts about on-going situations that might turn into a crisis (Hatcliffe 2018). As a result, this airline has enhanced its capabilities in crisis management based on the gathered data.

Aviation Industry Frameworks in Enhancing Social Media Capabilities: Strategic Crisis Management and Emergency Response

Since the current crises in the aviation industry are complex, it is important to integrate an effective framework with the capacity for enhancing the use of social media in crisis management and emergency response. The framework may foster a coordinated and systematic approach to communication, planning, and responding to a crisis. Emirates Airline has integrated this framework to sustain the use of social media in managing unexpected situations. As captured in figure 2, this approach combines strategic guidelines, capability development, and measurement of response activities.

Framework for aviation industry crisis management and emergency response using social media
Figure 2. Framework for aviation industry crisis management and emergency response using social media (source: Hayes & Kotwica 2013).

Section 1 involves integrating the value of different social media tools in the crisis management plan as a primary approach to the management of crisis situations. As a result, airlines will be able to send consistent and strong messages to multiple agencies managing a crisis-related occurrence (Hayes & Kotwica 2013). Section 2 is vital in establishing clear guidelines via social media to ensure that information is disseminated promptly to obtain needed intelligence or reassurance while harmonizing protocols and communication processes. Under capability development, the aspects of early detection, optimized task-handling, integrated feedback, and alert system via social media would facilitate straightforward and seamless communication to complement existing response processes (Zhi & Kaoru 2017). In the end, crisis management and emergency response will be enhanced. Lastly, measurement activities using appropriate indicators to monitor social media tools in use many facilitate the continuous evaluation of current crisis management plans to optimize operational efficiency, organizational insights, and benchmarking efforts.


Leveraging different social media technologies for aviation crisis management and emergency response provides stakeholders with expansive roles in managing and preparing for a crisis. Social media has unique characteristics such as connectedness, clarity, ‘collectivity’, completeness, and collaboration. These features have expanded the use of social media increasingly in supporting different crisis management and emergency response functions in the aviation industry. As a result, airlines can respond to crises through disaster training and planning, information dissemination, information gathering, and collaborative decision-making, and problem-solving.

Reference List

Austin, L & Jin, Y (eds.) 2017, Social media and crisis communication, Taylor & Francis, New York, NY.

Cohn, R 2014, How social media is elevating airline crisis communication, Web.

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Coombs, T 2014, Ongoing crisis communication: planning, managing, and responding, 4th edn, SAGE Publications, California, CA.

Fla, T 2014, Malaysia airlines flight 17: does social media help or hurt disaster response, Web.

Haddow, G & Haddow, K 2013, Disaster communications in a changing media world, 2nd edn, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.

Hatcliffe, M 2018, Three recent crisis management case studies that we can learn from, Web.

Hayes, B & Kotwica, K 2013, Crisis management at the speed of the internet: trend report, Elsevier, New York, NY.

Zhi, L & Kaoru, O 2017, Smart technologies for emergency response and disaster management, IGI Global, New York, NY.

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