Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.

So Much for the Friendly Skies

Today we have an accidental guest blog from Karen.

“Accidental” in that she wrote me an email and I’m swiping it. With permission of course.

But seriously. Girl can write. It fits five categories at once. AND she gave links. She blogs better in one email than I have after eight years!

Hey lady,

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to it, but there’s this thing that’s been going on that made me think of you, being the social networking/new media guru.

Basically, this week, Kevin Smith (yeah, the Clerks guy) got removed from a Southwest Airlines flight because the staff assumed he was too large to fit in one seat and the flight was too full to afford him a second seat. In reality, he did fit in one seat, but that’s kind of incidental. They embarrassed him in front of a planeload of people and inconvenienced the heck out of him, and in the course of the story unfolding, he met another regular SWA flyer who was a person of size and had been treated poorly, and basically deduced that SWA treats people of size poorly as a practice.

What made me think of you was Smith’s response. As the incident unfolded, he Twittered about it. Afterwards, he blogged about it. He then recorded an episode of his podcast about it as a central place to tell his side of the story (as opposed to going on a bunch of talk shows). And then when a lot of audience who were not Kevin Smith fans, just regular people, wanted to know about it but were unwilling to listen to a 90-minute podcast about it because they are used to digesting short Internet videos, not long audio broadcasts, he made a series of YouTube videos – partially to satisfy that need, and partially because he couldn’t leave to go on talk shows because paparazzi had surrounded his house. Dissatisfied with Southwest’s response, Smith resolved in the videos that he was “not too fat to fly, but too fat to fly Southwest” and would refrain from using them, explaining he viewed them as a luxury he could no longer afford; a luxury not for the rich minority, but for the thin minority. He also released a shorter followup podcast with the woman he met who had been mistreated by SWA.

Whatever you think of him or the situation or whether or not he might be blowing the situation out of proportion or just loving to hear himself talk about himself (I don’t think he does; he keeps saying, essentially, “I don’t want to keep talking about this, it’s embarrassing to have to keep talking about how fat I am, but the story of the injustices made by SWA needs to be told”), I think it’s interesting how much social media influenced the WAY his reaction was brought to the public.

It amuses me that this occurred to me on the first day of your Social Networking Lent Blackout 2010. I guess it’s really true that you won’t be able to avoid this stuff much longer.

Seriously, I should pay her. If I was getting paid for this, anyway.

I also read about this, after her email, on the Upgrade blog, which mentioned Southwest’s own blog response. My reaction at first blush is similar to both Karen‘s and Mark‘s. Yes, obviously Southwest handled the live situation very badly. But looking at their crisis-comms response, they seem to have addressed it as adeptly as they could have from a social-media perspective. They talked to him personally and updated the interested public a couple of times, briefly and conversationally.

Whether that was enough for the fans, I don’t know (but I doubt).

Whether they would have done the same if he wasn’t famous, I don’t know (but I doubt).

But I agree most of all with Karen’s final sentence. This kind of situation is only going to become more common.

(Yes, partly I’m referring to the ever-widening (heh) crisis of obesity. But check out Jamie Oliver’s TED speech for more on that. How I love that man.)

The sea change that our culture has undergone in the last 15 years is, very simply, this: we can all now broadcast at will.

So I can reach just as many people as Kevin Smith or Southwest Airlines or the Queen of England, if (very big “if) what I have to say is worth their attention. That is the main point.

The secondary point, relevant here, is that complaints are often more interesting than success stories. This is not news to anyone in retail.

The reason this kind of situation is going to become the norm becomes obvious when you consider those two points together. Complaints don’t go into a box anymore or into a neatly typed letter. They go public at the same time that they go to the recipient of the complaint. We don’t need the Nightly News Problem Solvers. We can do it ourselves.

And companies will continue to get burned until they realize this, and shift their QA and customer service resources accordingly.

Comments

Karen

Beware when emailing Sarah! Just kidding, thanks for including my thoughts 🙂

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