A media listen carried out exclusively for Travolution has revealed the extent to which the recent financial troubles that have beset Thomas Cook were picked up by the consumer.
The exercise, carried out in the week that Cook delayed the announcement of its annual results and secured an additional £200 million loan facility, contrasted sharply with an identical study done in July.
This first listen, carried out by social media specialist SRL Delve, covered the period when Cook issued its third profits warning in 12 months and the departure of chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa.
This revealed that while Cook’s woes had been picked up online it was largely by media and City commentators rather than the general public, and the impact on the brand was negligible.
Easily the most active channel was the traditional media comprising of websites operated by the national press and other online media outlets.
But activity fell away considerably in the more consumer dominated channels; micro-blogging (mainly Twitter), Message Board/Forum and Blogs.
However, in the week starting November 21, the day before Cook was forced to delay its results announcement, the data shows the picture was markedly different both in scale and nature.
Tuesday November 22 saw a massive spike in online activity relating to the brand with more than 4,000 mentions out of the weekly total of 6,759, indicating far more activity than after the announcements in July which resulted in approximately 320 mentions.
The media channels that were most active changed significantly too, with microblogging representing the vast majority of chatter followed by message boards and forums.
More traditional media outlets were pushed down into third place, reflecting how Thomas Cook’s woes had become a consumer issue – understandable given the national media coverage the story got.
More detailed SRL Delve analysis of who was talking about Cook online also bore this out with chart 2 showing the level of activity in relation to the level of influence of those commenting on the issue.
Those rated zero are considered to be the least influential and are likely to be the general public, while those rated 10 are the most influential – people like the BBC’s business correspondent Robert Peston, for instance.
Chart 2 shows that while the largest volume of activity was from commentators ranked zero and one, there were notable levels of comment from those key influencers ranked 10.
The chart showing the list of top authors suggests that Thomas Cook itself became very active during this difficult period, publishing Tweets and other communications designed to reassure the public.
Within hours of the announcement its interim chief executive Sam Weihagen had recorded a Youtube video aimed at reassuring the public that it was business as usual at the travel giant and this was being pushed out through numerous media channels.
This quick reaction to what was always going to be a negative story regardless of Cook’s reaction would almost certainly have helped to mitigate some of the impact on the firm’s standing.
The last two charts appear to bear this out with both neutral tone and brand sentiment dominating, and negative brand sentiment under 5%.
Chart 3 does suggest, however, that opinions did become polarised with higher than usual ‘very negative’ and ‘very positive’ content and negligible mild opinion either way.
SRL Delve said it remains to be seen if the media maelstrom caused lasting damage to the brand, and with Cook set to announce its results on Wednesday what cumulative impact, if any, this will have.
But it said its data shows the furore, while significant, was not long-lasting, with the initial burst of Twitter chatter fuelling the online debate but dropping off relatively quickly.
“I think Cook did as well as they could given the circumstances,” said Mark Harvey, managing director of Delve. “But what this shows is how important listening to what is being said about you is in terms of engagement.
“This was a really big event and it potentially affected people’s holidays and the public were understandably worried about it.
“You can take two things from this: firstly, engage the consumer because you can absolutely see what they are concerned about.
“Secondly, did it damage the overall brand? At this stage we don’t know, but looking at the brand sentiment the answer may be no.
“The job for Thomas Cook is to convince all the neutrals that there is a positive reason to travel with them once again.”