Man Spends More Than $1,000 to Call Out British Airways on Twitter

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Twitter has long been the kvetching board of the Internet, with users constantly complaining about everything from geopolitics to One Direction fans. These gripes typically enjoy a brief, raging moment at the top of followers’ timelines, then fade into obscurity. But one very frustrated consumer just used Twitter as his own personal advertising platform to start an ad-hoc campaign against British Airways.

Hasan Syed, a Chicago-based business owner, bought a promoted tweet Monday night bemoaning the poor customer service his family had received from the airline. Not only did his 400 followers see the tweet but also 50,000 other Twitter users based in New York and the United Kingdom that Syed paid to target.

hasan syed

“I’ve seen complaints about airlines and other services via Twitter all the time,” Syed says. “I thought maybe it might be interesting to see how promoted tweets might work and if that would get anyone’s attention.”

British Airways earned Syed’s vitriol by losing his father’s luggage for two days this weekend after a flight from Chicago to Paris, forcing the man to remain in Paris an extra night and cancel a trip to Dusseldorf, Germany. After calls to the airline’s customer service department got nowhere, Syed’s father asked him to call the airline out online. Many businesses are used to playing damage control with individual irate customers on Twitter—often through direct messages—but Syed decided to broadcast his frustration to a wide audience.

(MORE: Twitter Plans to Become a Shopping Destination)

“Usually with a complaint with an airline, that never happens,” he says. “It’s just a one-on-one thing where they rectify the situation as fast as possible.”

Syed said he’d never heard of an individual turning his personal complaint into a Twitter ad, though he thinks it’s an inevitable use of the platform. Others in the airline industry have already taken notice of Syed’s tactic. Marty St. George, a marketing executive at JetBlue, tweeted that using promoted tweets as a former of consumer complaint could be the start of an emerging trend:

Interesting; a disgruntled customer is buying a promoted tweet slamming a brand where they had a bad experience. That’s a new trend itself!

— Marty St. George (@martysg) September 3, 2013

Perhaps, but only for those consumers that can self-fund an effective advertising campaign. Syed says he spent at least $1,000 on the promoted tweet and tinkered with the users he chose to target carefully. Followers of British Airways received the tweet, as well as followers of news organizations like Mashable and Advertising Age to increase the virality potential of the stunt. It worked—Mashable, which broke the story, has had its article shared more than 10,000 times on social networks.

As for British Airways, the company eventually responded to Syed’s complaints via Twitter, and he says his father now has his luggage once again. “We would like to apologise to the customer for the inconvenience caused,” the airline told The BBC.

While Syed’s one-man ad campaign found success, its implications could prove thorny for Twitter in the future. Advertising on social media platforms is coming under increased scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which released updated guidelines earlier this year for law-abiding marketing in the digital age. Giving anyone with the right amount of cash the ability to distribute an ad across a social network could present problems if people start making false claims.

For now, though, well-funded Twitter snark has managed to force a giant corporation to take notice.  “It was borderline trolling,” Syed admits, and some Twitter users called him out for being rude in the way he approached the airline. But he sees positives in the outcome. “It could help keep big businesses more honest, possibly. If they have poor customer service, the repercussions could be far more damaging.”

7 comments
TonetteJSchaible
TonetteJSchaible


And what I have learned has blown my mind. While our parents always told us that you need a degree to get ... the reality has been flipped on its head in the last two decades. ... His boss was billing him out at $65 per hour, and the boss's time itself comes at $85. .... Hope to see you around here more often.== > w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.C­o­m


twt4twt
twt4twt

This is exactly why we started Tweet For Tweet. See which brands give a tweet about you, and which don't. Twt4twt.com. 

bobbymcdonald
bobbymcdonald

Very interesting idea! Internally BA must have been freaking out as it played out in real-time.  I think someone should start the equivalent of Kickstarter for pissed off customer ad campaigns (Twitter specific or otherwise).  

Not everyone can toss $1000 at Twitter ads calling out a company.  But what about smaller donations to a larger campaign from, for example, Time Warner cable customers unhappy with the recent CBS black out or Citibank customers mad with excessive fees?  Lots of possibilities...

mark1
mark1

The issue is not that he expected the airline to never lose anyone's luggage. It is that the airline gave poor customer service.

I have had airlines lose luggage and do everything they could to help out (Singapore airlines) and others that let you know clearly that they could give a flying $*&#.

I think this is a fantastic tool that allows people with the knowledge and patience to target the correct audience to have some David like leverage of Goliath corporations.

Another idea, if you cant afford to fund such a campaign on your own, why not create a Kickstarter type site for customers who have been wronged to pool money for a larger campaign, sort of like a class action slap on the wrist to the company.

If a few such campaigns go viral you will see customer support go up a notch across the board  

therantguy
therantguy

The problem I have with this is that it basically says "I want every company to get everything 100% right 100% of the time" and that's just not realistic...unlike say the United Breaks Guitars guy (who had every right to demand and receive compensation for the careless destruction of their guitar), losing luggage for a couple days is generally something that happens to everyone who flies with any frequency...it happened to me after a 24 hour day (19 hours flying total to Australia) and sure it was horrible not to be able to change my shirt or what not, but it happens...if every person broadcasts every petty complaint to the world, suddenly it's all noise and no signal.

SalvadorMorales
SalvadorMorales

@therantguy Well now imagine that your medicine is in your luggage... the complaint really is that they charge insane amounts of money and they lose something that should not be lost in the first place...