Now the furore over the social media ‘fail’ that was/is #qantasluxury is largely over we can analyse how the campaign was hijacked, to an extent by whom; and perhaps even glean some of the reasons why. But first a short recap.

Ill-timed but not necessarily a business disaster

Last week we took a look at why it went wrong Demystifying Qantas and Social Media, and our view has not changed. This was a poorly timed campaign by an organisation that did not understand that many of its stakeholders – employees, unionists, customers and the Australian public – do not agree with its stance in either shutting down operations by locking out staff or with what it wants to do in terms of restructuring its operations. And coming so soon after the lockout and the day it was going to arbitration because it could not agree with the unions – well, that was almost guaranteed to be an opportunity too good to waste for many who wanted to jump on to the bandwagon.

We also speculated whether or not it’s the huge fail that so many pundits have proclaimed. If we agree that social media should be part of a business strategy and that it should be linked to business goals and results it will be interesting to see whether those business results are adversely affected in coming months – we argue it’s too early to make that determination right now.

Interestingly, in recent days Virgin Australia announced its latest results and conceded that the lockout at Qantas had not made any material differences to those results – and it did not see that changing in the coming year! We believe that people seriously under estimate the power of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program; the foundation of much of the brand on its safety record and the stranglehold it still has on corporate travel in Australia. But as we also point out – Qantas seems determined to really test the resilience of its brand with its determination to show it is not a social business at its heart. Perhaps they were surprised at some of the vehemence of the tweets.

Understanding how the events unfolded and the cast of players

We also wonder how many of those who took to the hashtag are Qantas customers or potential customers (which is pretty important if you are going to declare this campaign a fail). And we think there are some interesting tales in a ‘forensic’ analysis of the hashtag and the timelines of how #qantasluxury got hijacked. So this post is really about ‘how’ the events unfolded to see what further insights there are.

We also thought it would be interesting to have a look at the cast of players in this saga. And some of the pundits. We had social media gurus rushing breathlessly to the traditional media by early afternoon with all sorts of numbers on the volumes of tweets (most of which were wildly inaccurate). We had pundits proclaiming disaster less than an hour after the first tweet. And we saw a level of commentary that probably went close to equaling the amount of direct activity on the tag. i.e Qantas got twice as much exposure on this tag as it might have otherwise through all the experts and their pontifications – which of course have to include the tag itself (and as we do here). So bear with us whilst we share with you the hijacking of #qantasluxury:

Timeline

The original tweets from @Qantasairways was at 11.34am Sydney time announcing the competition. It was quickly followed by another with the hashtag and the conditions. Just prior to this there were some particularly unsavoury tweets on the subject of Qantas including using terms such as calling Alan Joyce (CEO) a little worm. We aren’t going to dignify these people with quoting their twitter handle. The point is, there was already some negative traffic around which should have given Qantas pause about launching the campaign – if they were monitoring real time.

There were a couple of innocent retweets of the Qantas tweet and then two from a single account within a minute – one with a nasty response to the hashtag and one to Qantas saying they were going to fail at Twitter. This same individual was having a dialogue with another regarding his poor treatment by Qantas “5 years at platinum, 10 years on Qantas club, stopped and they never even called to ask why”. Clearly someone who has not had a good customer experience with the airline and took the opportunity to vent on the hashtag as well as off it. The individual to whom this was tweeted soon became active with sarcastic responses on the hashtag as well.

This was punctuated by the most ironic tweet of them all  – a report that Qantas had named a shortlist of 4 agencies in its review of marketing activities! Wonder if those agencies still want the brief? Perhaps it’s a pity the selection process was not completed before this program was launched – we suspect it may have remained grounded.

Back to the timeline. Many of these tweets were not on the hashtag, but just on the Qantas stream. However, within 24 mins of the contest being announced we had the first pundits telling everyone the massive failure on the hashtag and exhorting people to have a look and join in! Just under 30 mins after the announcement of the contest, @QantasPR tweets “firing the #qantas marketing dept before the signage dept, now. Not even our intern though #qantasluxury was a good idea”. The tweet was then retweeted quite a number of times. @QantasPR is a parody account (it’s amazing how many people thought it real over subsequent days) and interestingly was created on the weekend of the lockout. Those behind it remain anonymous – as do many who hide behind avatars whilst spewing invective – but they are very clever. In setting up they followed some high profile politicians who automatically follow back gaining a network and influence very quickly. When this started they had some 220 followers but today it stands nearer 1400. But they have stopped following anyone – cleaning up their trail as they go. It also has to be said they have produced some of the wittiest sarcasm on the hashtag.

By the time another anonymous account @virtualelephant comes on and starts retweeting frequently (this account set up Nov 5th with no detail) it was all over the competition. It had become a feeding frenzy and the sharks and trolls were out in force. Meanwhile, on the hashtag itself the first three negative comments came from individuals who describe themselves as a citizen journalism researcher; a senior lecturer in marketing and someone who enjoys working for union members. This last account, @monkeytypist gets active very quickly with negative responses to the tag and from there, it joins with the general Qantas stream and descends into the abyss. Inside that time Mark Colvin from ABC current affairs has retweeted a number of sarcastic responses on his @colvinius handle and it was a free for all.

And perhaps the saddest tweet of all came within an hour – “just love watching the Qantas brand die on twitter”. And there was a lot of this kind of sentiment.

The Players

We saw a lot of inaccurate reports on the overall volume of tweets. Why such differences? Well, the first is the quality of the tools you are using. Good tools distinguish between tweets at a very detailed level of search. Secondly, good tools get rid of spam and exclude it from the analysis – since the purpose of the spam is not to comment or respond to the hashtag. And this one did get seriously spammed for a good part of the afternoon. Twitter eventually sees that spam and removes much of it from the stream but if your realtime tools don’t have good spam filters you are going to get a lot of rubbish. For this analysis, as always, we rely on Sysomos to provide the data:

We are only going to focus on the Twitter stream as this was where the overwhelming bulk of the activity was; though as you can imagine it has generated a deal of news and blog activity:

As you can see the reach of the hashtag stream has been significant. It’s estimated that there were over 17 million impressions of tweets containing this hashtag. It’s interesting when you look at the authority levels of those active on the hashtag. Two thirds of them are considered low authority accounts and only just over one quarter of one percent of them are considered high authority accounts. This actually mitigates to some extent the eventual reach of the campaign and some might argue, the damage it has caused.

 

The majority of tweets in this case where actually retweets. Just under half the tweets represented an original thought and these were in the main retweeted – on average about once. However, as you can see from the analysis below, there were a small number of very active accounts – just over 1% of the individual accounts sent 8 or more tweets on the hashtag and another 2% sent 5-7 tweets. Clearly, some highly engaged but highly agitated folks on this subject!

The tweets came from all the globe:

This is a really interesting view because the activity certainly came largely from Australia, the US and Northern Europe – the primary destinations for Qantas and the places where many passengers were stranded during the lockout. It is interesting to see tweets from places like Africa and South America - when something goes wrong it goes global quickly on Twitter.

A scan of the 50 most influential tweeps on this hashtag reveals something very interesting – only 1 of those was an actual tweet to the hashtag – either with a direct response response or a sarcastic / parody type response. The other 49 are either social media experts or traditional news sources making commentary on the failure of the campaign. Indeed, without counting them accurately, we feel that almost 50% of the total tweets are commentators on the state of the campaign which tells an interesting story in itself. We suppose that this campaign will certainly make everyone’s list of Top 10 Social Media Mistakes and will be in every class negative case study for the next few years. But as we know, these highly influential accounts were but a fraction of the action so to speak.

SO, who were the most vociferous?:

And this final piece of data may well put the ‘disaster’ into some perspective. The most active account on this hashtag has sent 40 tweets so far. This account has an authority level of 1 and has a grand total of 9 followers at time of writing. A few in this list of most prolific on the hashtag were active on the subject of Qantas prior to this campaign, such as @alexmillier who has been very vocal about policies regarding flying musical instruments. Some of the invective and volume from others is hard to fathom though it’s clear that there were many in the hashtag stream who were just jumping on the bandwagon, trying to get their own influence levels up quickly.

Summary

So what do the forensics show us?  What intelligence is there to be gleaned?

Even without the general sentiment surrounding the brand at a time when it has had a recent lock-out, a series of rolling stoppages and is wanting to significantly restructure its business this was a poor time to launch. There were a few real complainants in the twittersphere immediately prior to this launch and Qantas should have seen that and dealt with them. Qantas does have policies on how it deals with complaints on Twitter and Facebook based on levels of influence – but perhaps those need to be reviewed when the brand is in its current position. It could have dealt with some of these issues quickly.

The hashtag had spiralled out of control within 30 mins or so. There were some ‘usual’ suspects in the social streams in Australia involved in that hijacking but by and large it did seem spontaneous. The most active on the tag were, by and large, those with lesser influence. And the most influential on the hashtag were by and large, social media commentators, reflecting on the failure. Many joined the frenzy in an effort to gain some notoriety and influence of their own – there were a lot of new accounts, people changing avatars during the discussion, desperately doing and saying almost anything to get noticed. Some of it in extreme poor taste, some of it invective directed in a very personal way; a little of it very clever in its sarcasm and even less a genuine response. Proving that social media is truly democratised for all and sundry. But there was a lot of it that was just a little sad to see as well.

In the end though, how many in all the 16,000 tweets and 17 million impressions, the endless retweets and commentaries, are regular Qantas flyers who will now change their carrier of choice? How many will make a decision to not book with Qantas when they next fly? How many will be influenced by what they saw on this hashtag? There is just no way to tell at present.

And so, coming back to social media and business goals – is this truly a disaster? It’s certainly a misstep – one many brands make (none of us are perfect) and one that Qantas certainly needs to learn from. But let’s wait to see what the results bring in coming months. In the meantime, we leave the final words to those who participated in the hashtag frenzy:

And what should Qantas do with its 30 first class PJ’s and amenities kits? Give half to the best genuine responses to the tag and half to the best sarcastic responses recognising that it made an error but is ‘big enough’ to deal with it.

WillB