2010 Throwback – Flight Centre Fends Off Social Media Attacks

For #throwbackThursday I’m thinking of throwing it way back. How far back? So far back I had to go to the Way Back Machine.

I was doing some research for an upcoming speaking engagement and was looking for an original post about the way we handled a specific crisis. It was based on the time we dealt with a petition calling for Flight Centre to be held responsible for the woes of Thailand elephants. We faced it head on, opened the kimono, engaged everyone, made some changes, and mitigated the potential damage.

The ever awesome and supportive Graham Robertson (now at wrote this original post documenting the experience, viewed from the outside. Graham and I were chuckling about how small the numbers are in relation to crisis situations of today. Good times!

Looking back it’s amazing to think that a global brick and mortar organization had the foresight and trust to allow us to execute on this new medium nicknamed ‘social’. It’s great to see many of the tactics are still applicable today (considering it’s almost six years later).

Below is a copy of the original post.


Flight Centre fends off social media attacks

Written by Graham Robertson.

It happened again! Social media has attacked, this time targeting the Flight Centre group.

A petition has popped up targeting Flight Centre group in a bid to save Thai elephants from acts of cruelty. Going by the limited information on the site, the choice to go so aggressively after Flight Centre seems to be based only on the fact that the group use images of tourists riding elephants sell the destination.

Normally this wouldn’t gain much traction and wouldn’t even cross my radar, but the petition allows those who sign it to tweet a message to their followers, boasting that they put virtual pen to virtual paper. The auto generated Tweet looks something like this:

Although this medium is new, the argument raised by these tweets is fairly old: Does tourism do more harm than good and are those who sell destinations responsible for the negative impact? The answer to that question really depends on who you ask, but it does seem unfair to attach the Flight Centre name to acts of animal cruelty. Although at the time of this post there has only been about 24 “Petition tweets”, if we assume each re-tweeter has an average of 300 followers, this message has had around 7,200 impressions. Not a huge number and nothing compared to the “Silent Bob” incident, but still potentially brand-damaging. Luckily for Flight Centre, their social media team have already picked up on this and have done an awesome job to turn some negative PR in to positive PR:

Those who tweeted the message were linked to this response on facebook.

If nothing else, this example illustrates how important social media monitoring is for your brand. It’s as simple a setting up email alerts on a site like (as I assume FC had done) and could save a ton of headaches down the track, once things have spiraled out of control.

As for the creators of this petition, an organization like Tourism Concern would probably be a better way to go with campaigns like this. Partnerships with non profit organizations tend to go a lot further than defamatory accusations.

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