Winning over a public outrage – What Airtel has taught us about social media crisis

Now that the dust has settled on the recent social media outcry against Airtel, we decided to sit back and take an objective, unbiased look at the incident. To bring you up to speed, here’s what happened.

On a regular Tuesday afternoon, an Airtel DTH customer took to Twitter, mentioning that her complaint wasn’t resolved. Initially, the first to respond to her was an Airtel service representative named Shoaib, which prompted the customer to make disparaging remarks regarding his religion, and demanded a Hindu service rep instead. The request was then taken up by another service executive – Gaganjot.



Within hours of the second response from Airtel’s team, Twitter went hysterical, accusing Airtel of giving in to a customer’s bigoted demands.

Surprisingly though, the brand didn’t jump into a reactive (and we mean apologetic) mode. Here’s where Airtel’s vast experience in building a master brand came through. What Airtel did, has given us some interesting marketing lessons on how to handle a social media crisis.

#1: First things first, Airtel publicly responded to the customer with a stern message, making it clear that the brand doesn’t stand for any kind of discrimination, and more importantly, it took a firm stand for its employees – Shoaib and Gaganjot. Though many people commented that the response came a bit late, we think it was important for Airtel to get the facts right for themselves.



#2: Airtel didn’t just rest with that response. Once the brand gathered more information on the case, it released a well-crafted and powerful statement, making the facts of the matter clear for everyone. The most compelling part of this statement was how passionately worded it was, emoting what the brand and its people felt about the whole episode.



#3: Of course, Airtel’s official statement was met with quite a few adverse reactions. However, it left quite an impression by taking the criticism objectively and offering the chance to audit its system logs to those who dismissed the response, including influencers and journalists.



Many brands and media pundits questioned Airtel’s move with the official statement, saying that it was too little, too late. The truth is that there is so much to take away from this entire situation. Now that it has been some time since the issue has been put to rest, we believe there are some big positives.

Firstly, Airtel’s statement was passionately worded, almost as if a real human being was reaching out, which is seldom the case with PR releases. This goes to show the company’s strong people culture. Secondly, Airtel’s handling of the entire issue deserved much more credit. The brand tackled this with utmost composure and resolution.

Not far from becoming a marketing case study, we think!