On the power of social media

A booted traveler got revenge of a sort on Southwest Airlines:

On Feb. 13, a stout 39-year-old man was escorted off an Oakland-to-Burbank Southwest Air flight on the grounds that his size presented a “safety risk.” Unfortunately for Southwest, it messed with “the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater.”

The man was Kevin Smith, who, in addition to being a well-known movie director, also happens to have well over a million followers on Twitter. So Smith, in addition to taking his outrage directly to Southwest, also swiftly broadcast it to the world, hurling the tweet grenade, “Dear @SouthwestAir — I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?”

What happened next was a classic example of the power of social media, the changing world of corporate public relations, and our own deeply divisive attitudes about weight. Smith kept right on tweeting his expletive-rich version of the story, and his followers spread it faster than it takes to fly OAK to BUR.

Did Southwest muck it up spectacularly with regard to Smith? Sure looks like it. Smith claims that, according to the airline’s own written policies, he wasn’t violating any of its requirements. He could put his armrest down. He could buckle his seat belt without an extender. And even if he had exceeded the company’s safety restrictions because of his size, you’d think they’d have figured out a less fat-shaming way to work with their paying customers than ignobly hauling them off the plane. …

Observer Kate Harding noted:

… I am so sorry that Kevin Smith, human being, had to go through that. But quite frankly, a part of me is really happy that Kevin Smith, Famous Person With 1.6 Million Twitter Followers, is holding an airline’s feet to the fire over this bullshit. While watching him tweet furiously @SouthwestAir (and sending a few of my own), I could only think, “Oh, please, let this be Southwest’s Maytag moment.” And let the other airlines learn something from it. I’m the kind of person who thinks it was awesome that Heather Armstrong used her platform to shame Maytag into offering decent customer service, and I’d like to see more corporations realize that word of mouth is a whole new fucking ballgame in the age of social media. And the only way to make sure you don’t get burned is to offer decent service to everyone. Famous or not famous, fat or thin. …

2 thoughts on “On the power of social media

  1. Great article. It is good to see companies are beginning to realize that if they preach customer service then they should actually provide it. I am not a big (pun not intended) Kevin Smith fan, but I am glad he is using his platform to call Southwest out.

  2. While not a fanboy of corporate behaviors by any stretch of the imagination, I wonder what would be the response from the public if SW and other airlines simply put lists of passengers. or would be passengers, that had been denied service on a site like Twitter or Facebook. Or had a scale or something at the ticket counter next to a copy of the flight requirements. There is anger here, but how much honesty? The power, as always, needs to be used in a fair playing field. This event shows maybe a good use of social media this time but shows also how fast a bad use can disseminate. We must always be conscious when using a knife lest we cut ourselves.

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