Learning by doing it wrong

Spanish translation at the bottom

Working as a social media editor for an airline is one of the best jobs ever. Our job is to create cool stuff about KLM every day. The feedback we get from millions of fans and followers motivates us and makes us proud of our work. We feel that we really contribute to everyone’s awareness of KLM.

Being a social media editor means you have to pick up on general attitudes. It means you have to be attuned 24/7 so that you influence the crowd positively. It also means that you have to have extensive knowledge of the outstations that KLM flies to. This is another enjoyable aspect of our work – watching cultural differences and learning continuously how to translate ideas into posts. What is the general behaviour of certain countries? What do they like? What makes them tick? What inspires them? It’s just one great part about working for a global brand.

We have created thousands of posts and tweets over the last few years. Many of them were just fine, some of them were really very good, and a few of them felt like little gems. Call us sentimental, but being able to write about your passion can make you emotional.

Sometimes, however, we fail in getting our message across clearly. In this particular case – in the heat of the moment – we created this post.

KLM Blog

We posted it without checking well enough to see if the majority of our readers understand our ‘blunt’ Dutch humour. What happened next was never our intention. Our own customers really laid into us, with 92,000 tweets!


We never meant to hurt anyone’s feeling or worse, insult anyone. We were “caught by the football bug”, as said by Gael Garcia Bernal.

Yes, Social Media is learning – in this case, by making mistakes!

KLM Social Media Team


— Spanish translation —

Aprender equivocándose

Trabajar como editor de redes sociales para una compañía aérea es uno de los mejores trabajos que existen. Nuestra labor consiste en crear cosas interesantes sobre KLM todos los días. La información que obtenemos de millones de fans y seguidores nos motiva y nos hace sentir orgullosos de nuestro trabajo. Nos parece que contribuimos realmente a la visibilidad de KLM ante todo el mundo.

Para ser editor de redes sociales tienes que saber captar actitudes generales. Significa que tienes que estar en sintonía las 24 horas para influir positivamente en la gente. Además, tienes que tener un amplio conocimiento de los lugares a los que vuela KLM. Este es otro de los aspectos agradables de nuestro trabajo –observar las diferencias culturales y aprender continuamente a traducir ideas en publicaciones. ¿Cuál es el comportamiento general de ciertos países? ¿Qué les gusta? ¿Qué los motiva? ¿Qué los inspira? Es simplemente una parte fantástica de trabajar para una marca global.

Hemos creado miles de posts y tweets en los últimos años. Muchos de ellos estuvieron bien, otros fueron muy buenos realmente y consideramos unos cuantos de ellos pequeñas joyas. Llámennos sentimentales pero, ser capaz de escribir sobre tu pasión puede hacerte emotivo.

Sin embargo, a veces nos equivocamos al transmitir nuestro mensaje con claridad. En este caso en particular –en un momento de euforia– creamos esta publicación.

KLM Blog

La publicamos sin comprobar lo suficiente si la mayoría de nuestros lectores entendía nuestro “brusco” sentido del humor neerlandés. Lo que sucedió a continuación no fue nunca intencionado. Nuestros propios clientes se nos echaron encima verdaderamente con 92.000 tweets.


Nunca fue nuestra intención herir los sentimientos de nadie y, muchísimo menos, insultar a nadie. Nos “dejamos llevar por la pasión del fútbol”, como dijo Gael García Bernal.

Sí, las redes sociales son aprendizaje –¡y en este caso, cometiendo errores!

Equipo de Redes Sociales de KLM

Posted by: KLM |
Join the conversation Show comments

Koos de Heer

I think deleting the tweet was the mistake. The Mexicansthemselves use the sombrero and the mustache a million times to promote their country and their food.

Hugi Chasot

The mistake is that it is only wear as costume and most of the occasion by ignorant media marketers. Visit Mexico and you will have another perspective


Yes. The whole world is aware of that. Just like the Dutch don’t smoke weed or walk around in cloggs all the time either and the French don’t walk around with baguettes under their arm. It’s stereo-type. One that Mexicans themselves use all the time, for anything and everything. Half of the fans in the stadium was wearing a sombrero! KLM didn’t say anything insensitive or negative. All KLM did was using the imagine a country created itself.

Rogier Bos fotograaf

Je kunt wel stellen dat je even bevangen was door ‘de football bug’, maar het is vrij duidelijk dat leedvermaak altijd een slecht idee is. #beginnersfoutje #beetjedom


Tja, toegeven aan een stel zeikerds is inderdaad fout om te doen. Het is pas nieuws als mensen sorry gaan zeggen voor iets waar ze beslist geen sorry voor moeten zeggen. Totale onzin. Een grap is een grap.


I thought that was actually funny even if it was mocking our loss. I don’t think we can’t complain about racism or anything if we go disguised with huge hats and moustaches to the stadiums, and in terms of the game we gave it away, so it was a fair win. Some people just don’t know how to lose and felt that they needed to take on someone.


Prime example of non-apology “apology”.

James Kell

I’m not sure that KLM should really be apologising for this at all. If it was the other way round, and the Dutch were being portrayed in stereotypical fashion wearing clogs and standing in front of a windmill, then I can’t imagine that there would be such an overblown response.

Further, as others have noted, Mexicans often portray themselves in sombreros – in fact, they have even used such imagery as World Cup Mascots in the past. I find it difficult to understand why this is ok, and why this has not caused mass outrage amongst the Mexican populace? Why is it suddenly “racist” and “unacceptable” when used by a European airline?

It is also hard to ignore the fact that KLM, out of all the airlines using social media as a marketing tool has been far and away the most successful, therefore, of course, people will be happy to pounce on the slightest perceived “slip-up”.

The reaction on Twitter, especially the now infamous expletive-laden tweet, was completely out of proportion – Twitter often seems to be used to vent “outrage” about inconsequential things such as this, and the most widely publicised reply really was vulgar and unnecessary.

not racist

It is a stereotype that Mexicans don’t like. If you like your clogs and windmill fine.

I bet you also like being portrayed as those fried eating orange dressed techno fans that smoke pot all day. Right….


As a Mexican, I did not find that tweet offensive. Not even by the use of the big-sombrero-&-mustache stereotype. We pretty much use it all the time to mock ourselves and to cheer our team in stadiums all over the world.

I was surprised at the general reaction in my country. Especially those of people like Gael García Bernal.

I was also embarrassed at the very offensive tweets you got in return.

We pretty much make fun of ourselves all the time. It is cultural trait. And it is a blunt sense of humor, also.

People in Mexico were angry at the moment. Frustrated. They needed someone to blame, like anyone or anything Dutch. Had the Netherlands been defeated and our national airliner came up with a similar tweet, we would be laughing our sombreros off.

The tweet was spot on. But a corporation will immediately get bad press.


Why should stereotypes paired with ignorance be acceptable for large companies? I wouldn’t expect the average internet troll to apologize at all, i might even be slightly amused about it, but international companies should be held to different standards. And in the end one person’s “blunt humour” is other person’s “casual racism”. And a proffesional in a social media communication should know that.


For all the Mexicans complaining about KLMs use of a stereotype: please google: “Mexico world cup 1986 logo”. Thank you.


There was no stereotype or racism used in the tweet. Your myopia is not letting you see clearly.


On my first-ever glider ride (soaring) the 9,000 hour pilot, a native of the Netherlands, let me sit up front as he piloted the motor-free plane from the back seat. He says, often, with a wry straight face, “If you are not Dutch, you are not worth much”. My 45 minutes with him soaring over Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains was much too brief. He made me want to be Dutch, because of his expertise, humor, and sterling personality. He found the right time and right place to share. I won’t forget the experience.


to forgive her mom


KLM you can do no wrong! I’m a fan of your work in social media. All the best from Argentina. You are Awesome

Elmar Veerman

Slim weer dit. Geen echte excuses, en die zijn ook niet nodig. Wel toegeven dat het een verkeerde inschatting was. Maar… was dat werkelijk zo? Ik denk dat de hele publiciteitsstorm uiteindelijk vooral positieve effecten heeft, en dat jullie dat zelf ook wel weten. De tweet terugtrekken na een uitgekiende drie kwartier was geniaal om de aandacht, die dreigde te verslappen, weer een flinke impuls te geven. En nu dit blog, prima vervolg. Zal wel geen miljoenen mensen bereiken, maar draagt wel bij aan een positief beeld.

Lady May

Sore losers… it was funny not offensive to the rest of the world

not racist

Same case as Black Pete. Funny for you I guess…

still upset - you racist guys

I don’t see an apology there…


Maybe because there was no need for an apology.


Maybe yes, maybe not. Unfortunately, the ONLY PEOPLE who can decide if needs an apology, is the people to whom the message was intended, not you. In this case, I am a person to whom the message was intended, and I can assure to you: YES, WE NEEDED AN APOLOGY BECAUSE THE IMAGE WAS RACIST, AND NO, WE DON’T SEE AN APOLOGY HERE. The end.


Then why do lots of Mexican supporters wear sombrero’s when they attend a match?

Delfin Vassallo

Putting apart if the tweet was racist or not, exploiting stereotypes or not, the fact is that many people did not like it, actually a LOT of people and potential customers (Mexicans and not) didn’t like it. This gives a lot to think: how come KLM – one of the best and most praised social media practices in the world – did not see this coming? It’s hard to believe this was just an impulsive tweet provoked by “the football bug”, this was planned well in advance, prepared, photo-shopped, and approved by more than one person. Now your fail is commented by the whole world, BBC, Time, Forbes, Mashable…. all mainstream media is talking about it, not to mention consultancies, business analysts and the social media industry globally. One single tweet has ruined your entire reputation as social media powerhouse, that’s how it is in this industry, not to be surprised many are already wondering when your social media director will step down. Or maybe that will only happen when you feel the financial impact? Remember, it is all about how the brand makes feel the customer – that emotional relationship – and by now hundreds, maybe thousands (count them on your Facebook page) of potential customers are angry at you and have promised not to fly KLM never.

Delfin Vassallo

BTW I posted this same comment on your Facebook page and it was deleted, are you improving your best practices?


Thanks for your feedback, Delfin. It is absolutely not our policy to delete negative comments. We did receive your tweets but we can’t find your Facebook post in our systems. Of course, all comments are welcome, either positive or negative.


Funny, the picture of the KLM planes in the football pitch is all “albiceleste”. A premonition of the result next July 9? A memory of 78′?

Ricardo Ibarra

First of all, I am Mexican and I think there is no reason to find this tweet offensive. However, I do believe KLM was quite unprofessional and careless to joke with that kind of stuff knowing that they are a global company that has to understand different cultures and ideas, and that they not only operate in Netherlands. It would be acceptable coming from Dutch people making fun of our loss in the World Cup; nevertheless global companies cannot justify something like this as “just local humour”. If they ultimate mission is to increase revenues, did they actually believe people would buy more tickets out of their humour?

They say they learn from making mistakes, and I agree that they made a mistake. On the other hand, why are they making fun of our loss even when they know that it was completely UNFAIR? :D.


First of all, I am Mexican and I did not find the comment offensive, or racist. But I believe I do understand the reason for the overall reaction.
Many people are erroneously thinking that a little sombrero and moustache was the cause for everything, but actually many people didn’t even see it the first time around.

It was the “adios amigos!” at the wrong TIME. “Too soon” some people would say.

You have to understand that a whole country which regards soccer as the national sport, (and they REALLY really love it enough to stop everything for a game), were mourning a loss that came completely unexpected, in the last 5 minutes of a game that would make history. That many people thought that last call, which caused the penalty that brought the defeat was unfair, and most of the country felt cheated… felt angry… (some grown men actually cried!, i saw them). And in that terrible sad moment when many dreams were suddenly crushed comes an “Adios Amigos!” from KLM… that really felt like a slap, mockery, “kicking the loser when he is down” kind of feeling. And it came within that precise period of time when the whole country felt the game could have been won but for what many believed to be a bad, unfair, call. It’s NOT what happened I hear, but as I said, in that moment… it was “too soon”.

The majority of Mexicans who I have talked to about this tweet tell me the same thing. It just wasn’t the right time. We, as a country, always regard ourselves with humor, with irony, we make jokes about our tragedies all the time, earthquakes, accidents, defeats, deaths… we historically joke about them all the time, and yes, many times we have joked in the wrong time, and we have been punished by the social response, accordingly. And we accept it. It’s just life.

But Again… It was NOT the sombrero, at all, not even the message.

It was JUST the timing.

What can I say? We are a very strange, sentimental country, where the topics of “Religion”, “our Mothers” and “Soccer” rule our hearts so much, they can bring Mexico to tears, to hugs, to brotherhood… and to war.


Beste Nederlandse vrienden, mexicanen werden beledigd door de omstandigheden van de eliminatie van de World Cup. We voelden dat we werden bedrogen uit vooruitgaan, dankzij Arjen Robben een bekende duiker op het veld. Wij vragen uw begrip context, het heeft niets te maken met botte humor.


Robben a diver? Can you explain how Hector Moreno broke his own leg? With what did he collide, considering that Robben is a diver according to you?


He admitted he was a diver. He has more collected penalties than anyone else in the premier league. There are clips on Youtube dedicated to mocking him and his penalty drawing antics.


On Youtube? Well, then it must be right. By the way, how how is Moreno?


Deny it all you want but the statistics are there.


I will believe that Dutch have that “blunt” sense of humor, and that they don’t get offended by this sort of thing, the day that Germany beats Netherlands, and Lufthansa posts the same thing you did with an icon of clogs, tulips, cheese or a woman wearing a Dutch hat, and the Dutch just laugh and say “thanks for the good joke”. Maybe Iberia should have done it during the last world cup. Please don’t pretend that it is our fault because we can’t take jokes. My husband and I are elite flying blue members, and we think that you were totally out of place. We are disappointed. Individuals can make jokes like this, but it is not suitable for serious companies to do it. If you really can take jokes, and if your jokes go both ways why don’t you show us the tweet that you had prepared in case you lost? Did it say “doei vrienden?” We are Mexican expats living in the Netherlands.


You apparently have never seen German newspapers after a win against the Netherlands.

La justiciera

loosing does not hurt, loosing by a cheater like Robben is what really hurted… then you cant steal and then make fun of it…


You seem to forget the double tackle against Robben in the first halve. Should have been a penalty. Moreno even broke his own leg while tackling Robben. So please don’t pretend as if the Netherlands stole anything. Mexico deserved to loose. Especially since the coach decided that the one goal was enough and choose to defend for the rest of the match. Deal with it.


This was the best answer. And you actually gave your competitors a great chance to create good publicity for themselves. Well done, community manager!


It was the timing that was wrong. Mexicans can laugh at themselves, but this was an almost historic moment for our country and it all came to an abrupt stop. Honestly, your tweet was quite insensitive when you consider the circumstances in which the game was won. Not only did we get screwed by the refs on previous games, but that last penalty is still causing controversy. Netherlands won, but did they do so honorably? I still don’t know but when in doubt, keep silent.


Dear KLM, you did use a racist joke, you blame the Mexicans by “not getting the Dutch sense of humor” and, using it using discriminatory images you made fun of something that was painful for the Mexicans in that moment. You lost many clients this day, and I am one of them. If this is KLM apology for “doing things wrong”, I do not accept it.

Natasha Cloutier

If it had been France, KLM would never have tweeted something like this! But Mexicans are apparently fair game, as it is ‘Verweggistan’ to your Dutch employees.

Hector Madrid

KLM never assessed the economic impact of this ‘blunt’ Dutch joke. You’re joking not with Mexicans in the first place, you’re joking with your customers. And replying with “Learning by Doing it Wrong” is not an acceptable and even worst response. You’re stabbing yourself KLM,

Yes, a Mexican customer

Your sense of humor? I just flew with KLM this spring and your flight attendants have the worst attitude, not friendly at all, and now suddenly we’re friends?? Pff…

Roberto Cuetara

The only reason you are giving this statement is to avoid commercial retaliation by Mexican costumers. Your joke will surely cost you. Many Mexicans, like myself, will always choose another airline. I hope you like our joke…

Hector Madrid

Your ‘blunt’ Dutch Humor cannot compete with my sarcastic sense of humor. Satisfied customers tell three friends, Angry customers tell 3,000. I am never flying KLM, ….. and that is not a Joke.

Sincerly, An Angry Customer.

#LearningByDoingItWrong #KLM


Zoooo jammer, was toch erg grappig. Zie nu het Mexicaanse meisje met haar liedje. Is toch ook geen probleem, iedereen is zo opgefokt, niet normaal.


what a load of bullock replies here. The Dutch team outperformed Mexico…by far and deserved to win. With or without penalty given. That’s all I have to say in terms of football.

In terms of the tweet, joke, rascist, sobrero and blabla bla replies.. please.. just get over it. It was a funny joke and it made people laugh and not only the Dutch. People always get offended by jokes.. it just depends what type of person you are. If you don;t like it, then just don;t react to it. And playing the rascist card? Seriously.. not even a worth comment. The negative over-the-top reaction that was set by the Mexican coach straight after the match was copied by (almost) the whole country which contributed to the negative sentiment in the country.. and also towards the KLM tweet. Would he have said (and also the other media) that Holland was just better and deserved to win.. I would bet you you’d get less than half the reactions towards the KLM tweet.

Not flying KLM anymore because of a joke? Please .. do so because I’d rather sit next to someone that’s fun and doesn;t take everything so seriously. Proud to be Dutch and
supporting a very good airline with a good sense of humor.

Adan Avelar

There you go!
Adios Amigos!

The marketing girl

This note is obviously another mistake, and you did not learn… trying to think less about yourselves me me me and then me / Esta nota es obviamente otro error… y entonces no aprendieron, traten de pensar menos sobre ustedes mismos.. yo yo yo yo yo y luego yo


No one asks a publisher of social network of a company that has a twisted sense of humor, is required to have sensitivity to the entire universe of customers. This post don’t explains a perverted sense of humor, much less reach the level of apology. It is a double display of stupidity.

– –

Al editor de redes sociales de una empresa no se le pide un sentido del humor retorcido, se le exige sensibilidad hacia el universo completo de sus clientes. Este post no explica un pervertido sentido del humor y mucho menos alcanza el nivel de disculpa. Es una doble exhibición de estupidez.

Viva Hollanda

For all the big mouths who are saying “I will never fly KLM”. Do you want to take the bet, if you need to go to the Netherlands and KLM is the only good priced option, you will take the KL flight anyway? You really think such a big company like KLM will miss the few of you? Really?!


I am mexican. I love football and of course my national team, but having flown with KLM I can honestly say it is one of the best airlines in the world. They are an excellent company and it seems they also have a sense of humor. That tweet for me was not offensive, it was actualy funny.

Leitner Uwe

probably you work vor KLM because you think like them Customers are idiots as they book with them. Yes as a few companies will book instead with them with emirate or turkey airline and they have a 200 employers each they will feel. in does days airlines die every day. and KLM just was short bevor bankrupt a Dutch Minister told me as i spoke with him over that case. In does day as you haven’t respect to you customer you die. may they will go ones with them as there is no other choose but mainstream the will book with others. And the money isn’t made with economy, its done by companys and business class. we checked and found even better and 300 usd cheaper with emirates. and my friend not everybody want to nederland.

Valentin Garcia

Como mexicano y usuario de redes sociales neta me da pena ajena que hayan tenido piel sensible acá, si se la pasan burlándose de medio mundo. Neta mexicanos, tengamos tantita madre, el chiste estuvo buenísimo, no veo por qué esta aerolínea debe disculparse.


How you managed to write a blog piece about this and not say sorry is astounding to be honest. Just as well you didn’t play Nigeria i guess….

Leitner Uwe

they was also on my very high noise acting. just tell your business network about it and make a view post like that in couple month they may need to spend couple millions to correct that with promotion. or a smart manager of KLM comes on the idea to go behind that things.

Leitner Uwe

KLM do not care in any kind for her customer. i was having case there a ground stuff was lie and to cover that the want to forbid me to contact my embassy, with the words as you contact your embassy to defiantly will not fly. as i contact my embassy they write a fake report that i was screaming (which is not true) and that security don’t want me to fly. i think its may some parcice because the only the want is then that i pay 300 Euro vor booking on next day. We try to solve that in the way they was asking us for but except default mails there was no real answer. we put now our legal department behind it. as you was having a similar case just contact me… and it was not a holiday flight i was doing like 26 flights in the last 6 month. you can contact me over Skype uweleitner may all unhappy ones ask your business network to fly at last 3 month with other airlines not even with airfrance to giving them some pressure that they do not forget whats the reason why they are flying an how to act with customers.


Dear Uwe, it is unfortunate to read that our services did not meet your expectations. Regarding your recent experiences, we have been in touch with you through Facebook as well. Since our 24/7 team on Facebook is best equipped to be of help, we kindly refer you to them for further assistance.

Leitner Uwe

look i was doing that when it was happens, even i try one more time. its not on me that i go to everybody by KLM. as you write you know about it, so you shut act. it can happens that there is any issue but that has to be controlled and solved. As my ambassador say which is also lawyer in dutch, there is no change vor KLM to win on court. and that will be the way now. think by yourself as you would Friendly ask a clerk to help you because you vorget your glass and they are only unfriendly to you. and lie later to cover everything and that member ov the crew try to blackmail me, like saying as you report that to embassy you will not fly round the pictures. by mistake i was let run my video cam. there is no pictures but you can here all very weel. and next is that they write in your system bad about me which is not true only to cover that what they are doing. also i was in need to PAY KLM extra Fee vor delaying me and hotel and miss a meeting with a minister next day. just think how you would feel and act. but KLM may don’t believe or want believe. so lets see what the court will say. as i say i can say that in such big company there can happens things, but it shut a by the system that that can be investigated and solved and not only that you don’t care customer and punish them. i believe , but may its wrong in doses days, that a company which works particular in that field shut be happy to investigate in order to become better and sort bad things out. Until today nobody was excuse to me, glass are lost. even was only an hour later when i report them where they are with light number and seat ect… that how you car priority customers. sure you can do that but then you shut not wonder as that has negativ effect on your business. And it was not that i ask vor millions on usd, only to pay me back the fee you was charging me vor rebooking, the cost ov hotel and a excuse. but you was unable since 26th vor that. lets see then how the court will think about it. there will be displayed every communication also that one. PS i don’t remember that we know as that weel that you call me Uwe still Mr. Leitner for you.

Leitner Uwe

one more thing, why do you call lie and blackmailing our service? A service is as you doing something good and nice to customer, but not as clerks want work, lie and blackmail customer. that you cant call a service. now i am real pissed of and i thinking to order a service which post a short version of that case in a 100.000 legated blogs.

stuck WITH (not by) KLM

From…you learn from doing something wrong. You don’t, I hope,
purposefully go out and do something wrong as a company just to learn
from it, especially PR stuff. “Learning by doing wrong” insinuates just
that. The title alone is killing you guys. Step back and read it again.
The second thing that is hurting you is pride. Ask yourself, ” why are
we creating this blog ?” If you want your customers back, then do just
that, get them back. The way to do that is to take a knee, ask for
forgiveness, and put your pride aside. That is what this blog should
have done, not fancy graphs and political language, bluntly ask for
forgiveness in simple wording because at the end of the day, it’s about
business. This blog not only missed its target, it continues to float
about the web. That is how I found it, trying to buy tickets. Good luck
and good night.

Dyan Chand

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