United Airlines Stock Decline & the Power of Google

Earlier this week, the stock of United Airlines plummeted as false reports of a second bankruptcy spread like wildfire following the resurfacing of an old Chicago Tribune article from back in December of 2002.

The dated article gained serious traction after it was indexed by Google News as a recent story. The mix-up occurred as a result of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel website posting a link to the archived story without displaying the original newspaper article dateline. When Google’s algorithm followed the link under “Popular Stories” of the Sun-Sentinel on Sunday morning, it was met with a fresh date of September 7, 2008.

After the world’s most popular search engine served up the story as fresh, it was then mistakenly presented as such by the Income Securities Advisors, which later posted the article on the Bloomberg financial news service. That report caused the shares of UAL Corp, the parent company of United Airlines, to drop significantly.

A lot of mistakes were made here, and the blame could be put on multiple parties, including Google, but the underlying issue that was reinforced from this series of events is that Google holds tremendous power over the stability and growth/decline of businesses around the globe through the power of search.

When most companies think of establishing or enhancing their presence in Google, they tend to think of utilizing SEO or paid search marketing to beef up visibility for their own website(s). What is often overlooked, though, and what we see in this case, is the tremendously negative impact that Google can have on your business when others are talking about you.

Online reputation management is a must in today’s online world of aggregated news, personal blogs and social communities. Word travels fast, so you need to be prepared and understand how to react to both positive and negative press about your business.

With the United Airlines story that hit Google and set off a chain reaction in a hurry, UAL reacted swiftly once they got wind of the disruption in shares trading. Could UAL have discovered it earlier and reacted more quickly to help mitigate the negative impact that it had?

Tough to say for sure, but with a well-formed reputation management program that had the right pieces in place, I would say yes.

There’s no doubt that it can be tough to keep up with what everyone is saying about you online, but as we can see from what happened this week, it is imperative that you do what you can to manage your reputation out there.