SUCCESS STORIES / JAN. 12, 2015
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The Story of AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes and Why Chief Executives Should be Active on Twitter

Tony Fernandes, the British-trained accountant worked in Richard Branson’s Virgin companies and Warner Music before moving into entrepreneurship. In 2001, Fernandes purchased the highly-indebted, government-controlled AirAsia airline. Fifteen years on, the story of AirAsia is that of nothing but success. Operating under the tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly,” Fernandes has managed to turn AirAsia into a profitable budget airline. It is not clear whether Branson’s deep interest in the airline industry influenced Fernandes choice of business.

On 28 December 2014, an AirAsia plane disappeared from radar and crashed into the shallow Java Sea. It was on this day that Fernandes had his worst nightmare come true. We know this, courtesy of his Twitter feed. Although the crash led to the loss of several lives, the conduct of the airline’s CEO, Mr. Fernandes, has earned him credit from crisis management, communications and public relations specialists. His performance on Twitter certainly demonstrates why companies whose CEOs are active on Twitter are well-placed to handle crises.

Here are some of the benefits:

#1 Improved Public Relations

When an accident of this magnitude happens, it feels reassuring to hear directly from the CEO. As soon as Fernandes learnt of the crash, he took to Twitter and told the world what the company was doing to address the issue. Relatives of the victims in the crash certainly feel closer to the airline’s top management. Although the airline may lose customers, many others will stay loyal, because they know the CEO cares.

#2 Clients First, Everything Else Comes Second

Businesses are profit-oriented entities. Some even engage in unethical practices in a bid to maximize the company’s value. Air Asia’s chief executive has been consistent in his tweets: the plane’s passengers and crew members are the company’s priority. There is no doubt the company’s financial managers are already counting the losses incurred with one aircraft not in service. But potential customers now know passengers are treated in high regard.

#3 Improved Trend Awareness

A crisis may happen when the CEO is on holiday or unreachable on his official telephone line. With the leader unavailable, many things can go wrong since there is no clear command structure. But if the CEO is active on Twitter, he is likely to be aware of what’s happening around the world and spring to work if necessary.

#4 Increased Customer Engagement

The CEO can directly engage with customers on Twitter. Although he doesn’t have to reply to every tweet, responding to one or two questions means a lot. Mr. Fernandes is yet to send out a reply, but he has retweeted a few tweets. This shows the chief executive doesn’t occasionally get to Twitter to post an update. He is there quietly, listening to what customers are saying.

#5 Increased Brand Awareness

It will take some time for social media experts to determine the true impact of the crash on AirAsia’s online presence. For now, we know the Twitter hashtag #AirAsia was a worldwide trend on the day of the crash, albeit for the wrong reasons. With the CEO active on Twitter, there is no doubt he contributed to the brand’s online presence.

These are just some of the benefits of a Twitter-friendly CEO. However, with Mediabistro reporting that just 3.8 per cent of Fortune CEOs are on Twitter, many top executives need to begin signing up.

Image source: The Asian Entrepreneur 

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