If you’re on social media regularly or have friends who are, you probably heard about the trending Uber boycott that occurred a few weeks ago. It started on Twitter with a hashtag, #DeleteUber, and quickly took flight from there.
Although some might say this boycott was in response to the CEO, Travis Kalanick, being part of Donald Trump’s economic advisory group and pledging to work with the president to solve issues related to urban mobility, that is not the case.
According to an article published by the Washington Post on January 29, 2017, this boycott actually started with unexpected backlash to a tweet by Uber on the previous day, which announced they would be lifting surge pricing at JFK Airport during the same time that taxis were on strike over Trump’s refugee ban.
While Uber may have thought they were doing something positive by lifting surge pricing, the audience was very quick to reject the company and start the #DeleteUber hashtag. Uber then took 24 hours to respond to the issue on social media, and responded in Facebook instead of Twitter – where the audience actually created the backlash.
Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor, jumped on the opportunity the boycott presented by “pledging to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully fought for a stay of the ban and secured the release of refugees who had been stranded in transit.”
Even though Lyft was also providing rides during the taxi strike, the company didn’t receive the same backlash that Uber did. Why is that? There are several reasons.
Uber’s initial tweet was probably intended to be something positive overall, i.e. “hey people, we know you’re trying to get to and from JFK and that might be difficult so we’ll lift surge pricing to help you out!” But because of the protests and the taxi strike, it had the opposite effect.
This was exacerbated by the fact that Uber’s CEO was already associating himself with Donald Trump’s administration. When Kalanick tried to refute the issues, the public basically said, “your words mean nothing since you’re working with Trump.”
By the time Uber gave an actual apology, it was too little too late. And although Kalanick apologized for the tweet and called Trump’s immigration ban “wrong and unjust,” he maintained his general stance as supporting the Trump administration and its efforts.
When you don’t plan social media well and review with the entire audience in mind, you can set off just a few people who start this huge hashtag chain reaction. Just one misstep (or a couple, in Uber’s case) can infect your brand with a viral disease; the kind that runs through the lifeblood of a company: the consumers.