Singapore Airlines' MH17 Social Media Fiasco

In this day and age, we can only wonder why social media marketing in Singapore is still left to interns or inexperienced individuals in Singapore to handle.

Shortly after the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, Singapore Airlines updated their Facebook page with the following message.


"Customers may wish to note that Singapore Airlines flights are not using Ukraine airspace."

After which, all hell broke lose on Singapore Airline's social media channels when people from all over the world started flooding the networks with angry comments on what seemed like gross insensitivity coming from a rival airline trying to make a name for themselves in wake of a global disaster.


A seemingly innocent mistake

The post was immediately deemed tactless and a rash act carried out without much thought.

It may have been purely an innocent mistake. However, the amateur social media or public relations personnel who probably harboured no ill intention but just to serve the notice to all customers who were concerned about the troubled air route had already done damage to a prestigious airline's reputation.

It seemed to the public that in wake of a disaster, instead of considering people's feelings, sensibilities and strong emotions from the loss of hundreds of innocent lives, Singapore Airlines was more concerned with distancing themselves away from any possible problem.

Such a short statement was written quickly and without thought pointing to the airlines own vested interests to protect their business and that lives that have been lost were of secondary importance to Singapore Airlines.


Lacklustre damage control

Following the torrent of backlash, Singapore Airlines promptly posted another short message on their Facebook page after apologizing for their previous mistake.

"Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of MH17, and their families."

This message was deemed insincere once again and garnered more negative than positive response from the public.

 Close to 300 likes supporting negative feedback compared to 101 likes supporting Singapore Airlines in the wake of their latest PR and social media disaster.

Close to 300 likes supporting negative feedback compared to 101 likes supporting Singapore Airlines in the wake of their latest PR and social media disaster.


How should Singapore Airlines respond after the disaster?

-> Be honest 

Singapore Airlines appears to only care about their bottom-line with their claim that they do not take the flight route past Ukraine.

According to Spiegel, while some airlines such as Air France had changed their routes to avoid Ukraine, most did not. Numerous other airlines took a similar path to MH17 which was shot down.

Below is Spiegel's chart of how many planes had gone the same route as MH17, a week before the disaster.

 Singapore Airlines took the dreaded flight path 75 times the week before MH17 was shot down. (Source:

Singapore Airlines took the dreaded flight path 75 times the week before MH17 was shot down. (Source:

-> Point out the fault area

During a PR disaster, where the fault lies with the company, it does not help to cover up the mistake with excuses. By openly talking about the mistake and explaining why it happened could help salvage a bad situation.

-> Make a sincere apology

In a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge their mistake, Singapore Airlines hid their apology under a barrage of comments. A new post should have been made instead.

It is unforgivable that the same mistake was made twice in the same day. A one-liner which caused the Singapore Airlines brouhaha was issued on their facebook page again. 

It seems that the fault lies not just with the incumbent social media agency but top-level marketing executives in Singapore Airlines who were unfamiliar with how social media works.


How Singapore Airlines' social media and public relations team could have handled this situation better.

-> Understand the situation

The MH17 disaster is not an incident to be treated lightly as the entire world would be concerned with every piece of news or related update.

-> Bear in mind company values

Singapore Airlines is a prestigious airline and respected travel brand known for it's high quality of service and should maintain that mindset when thinking about marketing/ messages posted to the public

-> Craft statement to be vetted by a team 

in light of the gravity of the issue, any message to be dispensed to the public needs to be vetted by a team of staff or relevant heads of departments.

-> Most Importantly - the staff at helm

Singapore Airlines, a luxury travel brand, needs to rely on a trained digital marketing professional who is well-versed in social media management to oversee their day-to-day marketing, branding and public relations activities.

To avoid scathing remarks and bad press, it's best to hire a social media expert who can help you manage your brand reputation, publicity and outreach.

In December 2013, Singapore Airlines appointed their first digital marketing agency - Dentsu Möbius to handle social media. Dentsu Möbius is the two-year-old social media arm of advertising agency giant Dentsu.


Big is not always necessarily better

One can never be sure if big agencies will hire the right people to handle their account. Bearing in mind that each account director is assigned to a barrage of other clients, you can never be too sure who is qualified enough to vet your company's social media outreach efforts.

At The Wee Marketing Agency, we are a flat-structured, small and nimble digital marketing agency led by an industry veteran who prides work quality over quantity. Contact us today for a friendly discussion if you are looking at hiring an expert to manage your digital and social media marketing needs.