#DeleteUber: When Social Media Meets Social Crisis

To say this past weekend was controversial is an understatement.

On Jan. 27,  President Donald Trump issued an executive order, banning nationals of seven countries from entering the U.S., leaving many travelers stranded in airports waiting to be processed so they could enter the country. The order infuriated people across America, leading thousands to flock to airports in protest.

Among those protesting the ban were New York taxi drivers, who went on a one-hour strike as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the people affected by the act.

During the strike, popular ride-hailing service Uber continued operating, drawing criticism from the Internet and causing #DeleteUber to trend as people deleted their apps in protest. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quickly responded to the ban, condemning it in a statement to employees and the public and promising to compensate Uber employees affected by the ban, a move that is estimated to cost the company $3 million.

Meanwhile, Uber competitor Lyft issued a response of their own, pledging to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union and subsequently skyrocketing to the top of the iTunes App Store as people continued to switch over from Uber. Yet Lyft didn’t stop services during the taxi strike either, and their donation to the ACLU was way less than the amount Uber will spend, reported the Chicago Tribune. On paper, the companies seem to be evenly matched; so why is Lyft prospering while Uber suffers?

The answer? Public relations.

In this case, the public in question was composed of customers who shared a common cause. They valued drastic action against the injustice they perceived in the world, and their transportation needs took a backseat to the larger issue at hand.

Uber didn’t attune to the immediate needs and wants of this public. A statement from the CEO just wasn’t enough, especially in the heat of a brewing social media scandal. While Uber promised to help drivers affected, it was too quiet of a response next to the perception this public had; to them, Uber was profiting off a crisis and thus positioned directly opposite from the public’s values.

Alternatively, Lyft acted by publicly donating to the ACLU while quietly continuing operations in the background. Where Uber responded reactively, Lyft acted proactively and made a clear, concise statement that turned a potential obstacle into an opportunity strike a chord with the values of the public. By comparison, the perception of Uber was one of “too little, too late.”

This entire fiasco is an example of how crisis communication is evolving in America. With the prevalence of social media, individuals have the ability to make a statement at their fingertips. Once an idea about an organization ignites a spark online, it can quickly turn into a forest fire if it’s not addressed swiftly, boldly, and with conviction. Had Uber understood this and done more to control their publics’ perception of them upfront, Lyft could very well have been the company in hot water right now.

It seems that in a world where the rules of public relations are changing, actions have never mattered more.

Image from Ridely.com