You must communicate quickly in a crisis

Every few months at Jetstar we run a business-wide crisis exercise. All the people involved in crisis management take part. Sometimes these exercises are announced in advance, sometimes they’re a surprise. We are presented with a different crisis scenario every time.

We use these exercises to train new team members in our crisis management plan, practice the steps we’ll need to take in a real crisis, and confirm that our crisis checklists and processes are optimised and up-to-date.

Every time we do one of these exercises we learn something new and we continue to improve our approach to crisis management – and, in the case of my team, our approach to crisis communications. Plus we get the opportunity to test and update our systems, checklists, and processes.

In our most recent exercise, social media played a vital role and I was reminded of crisis communications analysis I'd done last year on the '2017 Essendon Airport Beechcraft King Air crash':

On 21 February 2017, at 8:59 am local time, a Beechcraft King Air aircraft operating a charter flight, carrying a pilot and four passengers bound for King Island, crashed seconds after taking off from Essendon Airport in Melbourne.

I’d put this analysis into a graphical timeline to show how the incident had played out on Twitter. I thought it would be useful to share the key lesson from this analysis.

Before I get to that, though, it’s important to remember that one of the key components of any crisis management plan is communications. And, when an incident occurs, you want to be as quick to communicate as you possibly can.

Because you don’t know too much about the incident early on, and you definitely don’t want to say anything that isn’t 100% correct, it’s best to start with just an acknowledgement of the incident and a promise of more information to come. This is what we call a ‘holding statement’ or a ‘holding line’.

When you post your holding line to social media you do two things. First, you reassure people that you are aware of the incident itself. Second, you make yourself part of the discussion early on.

If you don’t post that holding line, all the discussion about the incident takes place without you. And, these days, this discussion happens incredibly quickly – as my analysis showed:

Twitter timeline of 2017 Essendon DFO incident (Ameel Khan)

As you can see from the timeline, the crash occurred at 8:59am and the first tweet about it was posted exactly ten minutes later by talkback radio station 3AW. A passing motorist who had witnessed the crash had called in to talk about what he’d seen.

Two minutes later Channel 7 tweeted that they were diverting their traffic chopper to this area. And, by the time Channel Nine tweeted twenty minutes after that, video from this helicopter was being broadcast on TV and livestreamed by most Australian TV stations on both Facebook and Twitter.

Emergency services had also been tweeting alerts about the incident and the closure of the freeway next to the crash site. had been tweeting as well. In fact, they tweeted a screenshot of the flight data from their records a little over an hour after the crash.

The Direct Factory Outlets (DFO) shopping mall that the aircraft crashed into didn’t say anything publicly or on social media till almost two hours after the incident. But, given those folks probably don’t do as much intense crisis planning as airlines do, that’s not bad.

The key take-away here is that the bulk of the story about the crash was told within the first sixty to ninety minutes.

The lesson for businesses and for communicators is that, if an incident has anything to do with you, and you don’t jump into the online discussion quickly enough, all the discussion, the speculation, and the apportioning of blame will happen without you.

Basically, you will have lost the opportunity to share the authoritative account of the incident. Instead you’ll be stuck battling the numerous unverified, limited-knowledge stories and opinions that will already be out there.

In the case of the Essendon DFO crash, there was no charter service operator who could jump in and tell the authoritative story because the person who had chartered the aircraft was the pilot himself. So this whole story was told by other people.

If you do manage a business, however, and you find yourself involved in a major incident, then you must jump on to social media very quickly to make yourself a part of the online discussion. That means, if you haven’t created a crisis management plan, create one now. And, if you haven’t practiced yours in a while, you should go ahead and do that sooner rather than later.

To all the communicators out there who will have to deal with crises in the future: I know how difficult a job you have and I wish you all the best!

A new way of looking at my career progression

Several years ago I wrote about my career progression through Microsoft products.

It occurred to me recently that I can also map my career progression through the functions I've performed and responsibilities I've had in each of my jobs (a list of which you can see on my LinkedIn profile, by the way):

Makes sense, doesn't it? Particularly these last six years as Social Media Manager at Jetstar in which strategy has played such a major role, along with a good dose of project/vendor management and a bit of internal consulting.

Working at Jetstar is Like Working at a Startup

I'm not sure if this applies to all Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) but working at Jetstar feels like you’re working at a startup. This, of course, is one of the reasons why I love working here.

In a guest post on Venture Beat Elli Sharef wrote about the ‘5 Things You Need to Know Before Working at a Startup’. Three of these apply directly to life at Jetstar:


Working at Jetstar you really have to own what you do and, of course, believe strongly in what you're doing. So, for example, if you're the one who comes up with a great idea then you're the one who has to implement it. Sometimes you get to do this literally all on your own from start to finish.

And when you're given ownership on one part of the business – in my case, Jetstar's social media presence – it's all yours to do with whatever you want (given, of course, that what you do makes business sense and fits well with what others are doing; and, if it’s something drastically different, is approved by senior executives).

This level of ownership, control, and direct responsibility is both exciting and terrifying.

Mentoring and Guidance

Because in a startup you're often doing stuff that is new and innovative you don't really have people who can guide and mentor you in your role based on their years of experience in this field. Case in point: before Jetstar no other full-service carrier (in our case, Qantas) had launched a low-cost subsidiary that was as successful as Jetstar is now.

On the social media side of things, for example, I certainly don't know of any other large, customer-focused, seven-year-old Australian company that, while partnering with a large sixty-year-old Japanese company, is providing customer service to people in Japan in Japanese via Facebook and Twitter.

A lot of what we’re doing here is new and innovative. This is stuff that no one or very few people have done before and it’s incredibly exciting to be at this leading edge.


This third point is important because it determines whether you'll be at Jetstar for six months or five years. Sharef puts it really well:

The pressure to achieve results, hit metrics, achieve growth, and get more traction can be overwhelming for many. We’ve seen lots of people quit startups because they realized the emotional pressures were simply too much for them. It’s awesome to know your work can help make or break the business, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility!

The good thing is that, while the pressure may be high, the rush I get from making a real difference to what Jetstar does on social media is incredibly rewarding. Certainly at this point in my career I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing and anywhere else I’d rather be working.

New Job: Social Media Manager at Jetstar

Yesterday was my first day as Social Media Manager at Jetstar. Yes, that means I have a new job :)

For those of you who might not know, the Jetstar Group (usually just referred to as Jetstar) consists of four low-cost airlines:

Jetstar was launched in 2004 and, with its 79 aircraft and over 7,000 employees, currently flies to 56 destinations in 17 countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

My job is a Group role (i.e. it’s a corporate function that works across all four airlines) and is based at the Jetstar corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

Why did I change jobs?

For a number of reasons:

  • I love the airlines/aviation industry and working for an airline is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
  • Jetstar is a great brand that is run by good people who provide a valuable service. It’s a brand I respect and is a brand whose values I share (i.e. providing good value for money, making smart use of technology, and making travel to popular destinations accessible to lots of people).
  • I’m making a career path adjustment that sees me changing my focus from building and managing websites to helping companies and customers communicate better with each other using social media. And while this is a slight narrowing of focus (e.g. in my current role I won’t be looking after the Jetstar website) it is also an increase in overall responsibility (i.e. I get to work on more strategic corporate communications objectives).
  • My new role is more challenging because the scale and scope of customer engagement is greater (e.g. it’s across the entire Asia-Pacific region as opposed to just within the state of Victoria) and the aviation industry is more exciting, more innovative, and moves much faster than the water industry.
  • I have a greater opportunity for personal growth because I now get to employ my social media skills to their fullest. I had been wanting to increase my social media focus at Melbourne Water but, with all the other work I was doing there, this wasn’t something I was able to do.

I also get to work with one of my former managers who I really like and work really well with. And finally, as someone whose family is spread across multiple countries, the travel benefits of working for an airline are important to me personally.

What does the new job involve?

Broadly speaking, my overall objective is to improve the communication, engagement, and understanding between Jetstar and its customers. Specifically, I get to do this via social media. Though, practically speaking, this engagement will be integrated across multiple communication channels.

How exactly I go about doing all this is something I will share on this blog (and probably also on Twitter) over the coming weeks, months, and years so stay tuned.