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Did mandating COVID vaccines for passengers damage Qantas' brand? Twitter weighs in

Alan Joyce, the CEO of Australia’s national airline Qantas, let slip in an interview on Monday night something big. He casually mentioned that once COVID-19 vaccines are available they will require that all international passengers prove that they have been vaccinated. Unsurprisingly this sparked a rush of social media posts aimed at Qantas, providing a timely opportunity to test how Receptiviti’s SALLEE emotions engine can be employed to quantify the impact of this announcement on the Qantas brand.

We once again turned to Twitter to gauge the emotional response to the announcement, scraping a sample of 5,368 tweets posted after the Alan Joyce interview that mention Qantas and one of vaccine/vaccination/vaccinated. As expected, running this sample through our API we found a lot of negative emotions, with anger, disgust and fear dominating (Fig1). Positive emotions were more subdued, with excitement, admiration and love shining strongest.

Figure 1 – Average emotions of tweets about the Qantas vaccine mandate.

Does the dominance of negative emotions such as anger, fear and disgust mean that Qantas has made a mistake and irreparably damaged their brand with this announcement? Not necessarily, people who feel strong negative emotions are more likely to express these feelings than people who feel correspondingly strong positive emotions. In other words, the angry shouty people are much louder than everyone else. So how can we quantify the impact of this announcement on Qantas’ brand? One way to do this is to compare the emotions directed at Qantas following this announcement to the average emotional profile of the entire Twittersphere.

To do this, we collected a sample of 41,106 random tweets from the Twitter ‘garden hose’ (a random 1% sample of the entire Twitter feed), discarding any that specifically mentioned Qantas, and ran them through SALLEE as well. We then compared the average Twitter emotional profile to that of the tweets aimed at Qantas, finding that while overall negative emotions were higher and positive emotions were lower than the average twitter profile, they weren’t all that far off. Anger (+3%), disgust (+4%), fear (+4%) and overall bad-feeling[HS1] (+6%) were all up but not by as much as you’d think considering the dominance of these emotions. In contrast, joy (-2%), admiration (-3%), love (-3%) and overall good-feeling[HS2] (-4%) were all down, but again not as much as you’d think. Interestingly though, out of all the positive emotions excitement was slightly higher (+1%) than the average Twittersphere profile, indicating perhaps that people truly are seeing a light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

When I presented the preliminary results of this analysis, a former colleague of mine asked a very interesting question: “is there a correlation between emotional content and rationality?” One of our LIWC metrics analyses analytical thinking, which is a measure of how logical (i.e. focussed on facts and figures) someone’s thinking style is as opposed to being more emotional and gut-instinct driven, and hence can be used as a proxy for rationality. Considering the emotion vs analytic divide, it’s not surprising that people who are more emotional tend to have lower analytical thinking scores, which is supported by our data. The negative emotions are all mildly anti-correlated with analytical thinking (anger: -0.10, disgust: -0.16, fear: -0.10 and bad-feel: -0.24). Similarly, the positive emotions for the most part were also slightly anti-correlated with analytical thinking (love: -0.10, gratitude: -0.06, joy: -0.06 and goood-feel: -0.02) but slightly less so than the negative emotions. Surprisingly though, there was one emotion that was strongly present in the sample that bucked the trend: excitement was not only strongly present in the Qantas tweet sample but was also mildly correlated with rationality (+0.2). We interpret this as likely indicating that the people who are excited have logically analysed the situation and have realised that Qantas preparing for a post-COVID world means that international holidays are soon going to be back on the table.

Ok, so it doesn’t seem as though the vaccine mandate has significantly damaged the Qantas brand, but what were the people who felt such strong negative emotions saying about Qantas? To probe this we generated a word cloud from all the tweets that had anger scores in the top 25% of the sample (Fig 2), removing Qantas and @Qantas for clarity. It’s clear that the negative tweets are predominantly concerned with the vaccine with ‘people’, ‘will’, ‘never’, ‘get’, and ‘vaccinated’/’vaccination’ presenting strongly, along with ‘covid’, ‘can’, ‘fly’ and ‘like’ also shining through. Interestingly two Twitter handles also feature prominently: @emmakennytv – a UK based television psychologist who has been openly opposed to mandating a COVID-19 vaccine, and @uktwinds – a UK travel agency who has announced that they will no longer be selling flights with Qantas as a result of the mandate announcement.

An examination of a random sample of the angry tweets found a lot of angry shouting about how no corporation can tell people what to do, along with mentions of boycotting the airline in favour of flying with other carriers (Qatar being prominently mentioned). Interleaved with these tweets were a number of equally angry posts pointing out that vaccines save lives and that this isn’t the first time travellers have been required to present proof of vaccinations (for example, many countries – not airlinesrequire proof of vaccination against yellow fever for passengers travelling from hotspots as an entry visa requirement, Australia being one of them).

Figure 2 – Word cloud built from the top 25% most angry tweets.

How do the positive tweets stack up in comparison? Generating a word cloud of the top 25% of excited tweets presents a very different story (Fig 3). The most prominent word is ‘international’ along with a bunch of words around vaccinations and COVID-19, but also words such as ‘travel’, ‘flights’, ‘airways’/’airline’/’airlines’ and ‘flights’. In contrast to the negative tweeters, the positive folks seem excited at the possibility of resuming international travel as a result of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Interestingly our friends @emmakennytv or @uktwinds don’t feature prominently in the overwhelmingly positive sample.

Figure 3 – Word cloud built from the top 25% most excited tweets.

As a final test, we scraped tweets mentioning @uktwinds to see how their boycotting of Qantas might have affected their brand. Admittedly we didn’t get a lot of tweets (only 104), so it’s not a statistically significant sample. Having said that, both good-feel[HS6] (+5%) and bad-feel[HS7] (+4%) were both up compared to the average twitter emotional profile, with anger (-2%) and love (-2%) slightly down, but disgust (+3%), fear (+1%) and gratitude (+3%) all slightly up. The only significant deviation from the Twittersphere was in admiration, which was up by +9%. So, it looks as though they may have won over some fans with their decision to no longer book flights with Qantas. However, considering the high likelihood that the Australian government will also require proof of COVID vaccination before issuing visas (and that other airlines flying to Australia may also mandate vaccinations), it may yet end up being a bad business decision for @uktwinds.


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