Two months ago, a controversial issue happened on Uber. It was originally caused by Trump’s executive order, which prevented travelers from seven Muslim countries from entering the US. In order to protest Trump’s executive oder, taxi drivers in New York City refused to pick up passengers at JFK Airport from 6pm to 7pm. At 6:30pm, Uber posted a tweet saying that it had turned off its “surge pricing” function, so passengers at JFK don’t have to increase the cost to take a ride because of the high demand.
Some interpreted this behavior of Uber as an opportunity to attract more business. But the movement of Uber caused the hard strike from people was an email from Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, to its staff. Kalanick wrote: “This ban will impact many innocent people – an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.” He was immediately criticized for serving on Donald Trump’s businessadvisory committee.
Then a campaign, called #DeleteUber, was widely spread on Twitter to encourage users to stop using Uber, against Kalanick’s close ties with Donald Trump. Over a weekend, more than 200,000 users deleted their Uber accounts and a negative feeling to Uber emerged on millions of the US citizens.
To comfort people’s anger, Kalanick left Trump’s economic advisory council and released a statement to claim his attitude of Trump’s ban on refugees. In the statement, he said, “Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”
To save Uber’s brand image, Kalanick also signed a joint letter with New York tech leaders against the immigration ban. However, these behaviors seemed useless to please the angry people.
From my perspective, I could hardly tell Uber was willing to oppose Trump’s ban on refugees or was forced to do so because of the pressures from users. I believe many people had the same feeling with me. Maybe both two of them existed. But for the people who deleted their Uber accounts, they tended to interpret that Uber had ulterior motives.
I thought that no matter what Uber did, its following actions wouldn’t decrease the criticisms of Uber supporting Trump’s executive oder, but might build a venal image. I always insist that brands shouldn’t be involved with politics. Because when a brand caters to one political group, it must offend its opponents and gives rise to unnecessary troubles.
This situation could be avoided at first. When taxi drivers protested Trump’s ban, Uber shouldn’t intervene taxi drivers’ strike of announcing that it turned of “surge pricing”. After that, Kalanick shouldn’t show his close relationship with Trump, even though he was going to oppose Trump’s executive order. When people’s despite on immigration ban was on a peak, it was never smart to take the reverse movements or intend to do so. It only transfer people’s anger from Trump to Uber.
On the other hand, two main shareholders of Uber’s rival, Lyft, are Trump’s major supporters and advisors. However, Lyft didn’t say a word about supporting Trump’s ban on refugees. Many people turned to use Lyft after deleted their Uber accounts, probably because they didn’t know the relationship between Trump and Lyft’s shareholders.
What a sarcasm to Uber.
Even though these sorts of crisis happened on social media platforms, I’d like to attribute them to Public Relations issues. After all, one of Public Relations’ responsibilities is to save the brand image when a serious crisis happens. Uber always have excellent marketing campaigns which surprise its users. This time, Uber in deed needs a group of PR experts to help it rebuild the brand.
Good luck to Uber!