Chapter 23: Managing a crisis. How Dow Chemical failed to tackle the PR crisis over its associal with the Bhopal Disaster

A contrasting example of crisis management…

You’ll find a further case study, about Qantas and how it managed a crisis that affected it, below these links…


These links take you to the source material for this chapter in the book version of Brand Journalism. They are here to make it as easy as possible for readers of the print edition to refer to sources and further reading and research material. All links were active when the book was researched and published. If you find a boken link, please let me know at

1 BBC report on the International Olympic Committee’s views on Dow and Bhopal

2 BBC report on Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics

3 The Wall Street Journal on Dow’s Olympic-sponsorship goals

4 BBC website timeline on the Sow Olympics controversy

5 Report on a special Olympics held with the children of gas victims of Bhopal

6 Dow’s website’s Solutionism area

7 The Dow Chemical Company and the Bhopal Tragedy

8 Daily Telegraph report on Dow’s denial of responsibility for compensating Bhopal victims

9 Holmes Report  on PR crises

10 Amnesty International on Dow and the 2012 Olympics

11 Dow’s Olympic video, on a green, sustainable, Solutionism theme Sorry, this video is no longer avalable

12 Parody of Dow’s Olympic video, on a green, sustainable, Solutionism theme Sorry, this video is no longer avalable

13 The Motley Fool on Dow and Bhopal

14 Inventorspot, Top 10 Social Media Nightmares

15 The Wall Street Journal quoting Dow

Another crisis management case study…

Qantas: How to do it

Airline Qantas’s reaction to a serious disruption of service demonstrates the effective management of a situation that could have had a grave impact on a business. The following is based closely on a report from Cara Pring at

Cara works for Qantas, managing their social media efforts.

This case study is not intended to be anything like a parallel to the Dow story. No two crises are the same. Rather, it demonstrates a difference in approach and ownership of the problem, rather than a denial that there was one.

The audience

The direct audience was the over 120,000 people affected by Qantas flight cancellations and delays over 16 days in June 2011: the greatest disruption to the airline’s network in its history. There was also a wider audience in Australia of those concerned to see how such a prominent brand would cope with the crisis, caused by a volcanic eruption in Chile.

The business goals

For safety reasons, Qantas took the decision not to fly through or under the ash cloud, but some other airlines did. Qantas’s more conservative approach to safety had the potential to bring an adverse reaction from customers.

Qantas needed to explain why it had taken this course, and also manage the huge demand for information from those hoping to fly.

Cara says: “Qantas call centres were inundated by these passengers who were all desperate for information on whether their flight was cancelled, when flights would resume and what they should do in the meantime.  This resulted in a significantly long wait…It was a sudden and unforeseen occurrence that tested the limits of the company’s customer service capability.

“Regardless of culpability, the fact remained that thousands of Qantas customers were looking for information and updates, and traditional channels of communication were not proving adequate.”

The brand journalism strategy and the platforms used

With its call centres overloaded, Qantas turned to social media to satisfy the business goal of getting information to customers as effectively as possible, and to justify its decision to stop flying.

Qantas turned to Twitter and Facebook, where it already had substantial followings, and it engaged with that community to help it spread information to all who needed it.

“During the period of disruptions, Qantas’ Twitter and Facebook channels were completely dedicated to ash cloud updates, information and most importantly responses to questions from affected customers.  When people could not get through to the call centre to find out if their flight was going ahead, they could find out in minutes through these channels.”

The platforms used

Qantas directed visitors to its corporate site, to its Twitter accounts @QantasAirways and @QantasMedia and Facebook

On YouTube, a short video entitled Safety Over Schedule was posted outlining why Qantas was choosing not to fly when other airlines were.

The video featured the airline’s head of operations and chief pilot explaining in detail how data about the ash cloud was gathered, describing what happens to a plane’s engine if ash gets into it, and showing how the decision to stop flights was arrived at.

The level of interest in Qantas at the height of the crisis was such that Qantas exceeded the Twitter tweet limit three times. That triggered a message on the Twitter account which said: “You are over the status update limit. Please try again in a few hours.”

The result

Cara says that, despite the Twitter outage: “The statistics for the Qantas Facebook and Twitter channels during the ash cloud situation are proof of how successful the social media strategy was.”

Those stats are:

  • Twitter: a 68 per cent increase in followers to 5,625.
  • 5,866 mentions, 3,173 tweets, 1,559 retweets.
  • Conversations with over 2,000 people, of which 64 per cent were positive, 32 pe cent negative.
  • Facebook: a 12 per cent increase in fans to 6,700.
  • 42 wall posts by Qantas, 9,269 comments or likes, 387 wall posts by fans.
  • There were 3,282,920 news feed impressions, and a cumulative total of daily users of 255.750. 20,968 visits to the Facebook account originated from the corporate website
  • The YouTube video attracted over 13,000 views over the first week as well as a great deal of positive feedback.

Cara says: “These stats represented an increase of about 300 per cent in mentions and 360 per cent in tweets from @QantasAirways during this period compared to normal periods of social activity.  The number of retweets increased by 1,000 per cent.

“Remarkably, the sentiment of conversations on both Twitter and Facebook were predominantly positive during this time…

“The dedicated social media strategy that was employed by Qantas during the ash cloud situation was effectively a win/win for customers and Qantas alike.  The customers were able to get the timely information and updates they needed and Qantas was able to offset some of the negativity and dissatisfaction that was arising due to long phone wait times, even delighting customers in many cases. The activity also led to a significant increase in communities on both Twitter and Facebook that Qantas can now capitalise on for future sales, campaigns and general customer engagement.”

The strategy gained positive coverage in the media.

Final thoughts

Here are a couple of links to further material on the two case studies covered here.

Global Crisis management community on Dow:

One blogger’s analysis of how Qantas compared with other airlines in its response to the ash cloud: