Silent Bob & Southwest Airlines: 7 Lessons Learned

Kevin Smith on SWAIt’s been quite the week for Southwest Airlines and Kevin Smith (aka, Silent Bob).

If you haven’t heard about the drama, do a quick search in Google and you’ll soon be caught up. You can also check out articles from CNN, two responses from Southwest (1 and 2) as well as a few posts from Kevin Smith himself (1 and 2). He also recorded a podcast that really details the entire story … from his side (Note: vulgar language).

As many of you know, I’m a big SWA fan. Also, I’ll admit that while I’ve followed the story as close as I can – from various angles – I don’t claim to know the full details. I don’t know what happened outside of what is public information. I do know what I read in CNN, the SWA blog, Kevin Smiths, blog, Twitter…as well as a few other sources. But really, only Kevin Smith and the few Southwest employees involved really know.

Facts aside for a moment…

I’m more interested in how Southwest handled the situation from a social media perspective. I can’t speak to all channels, but I’ll start with one of the most visible – Twitter. It started with a tweet from Kevin on Feb 13th at 6:52PM:

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?

@SouthwestAir replied 16 minutes later with this:

@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I’m so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may DM!

I’ll spare the full details as they are (mostly) all public, but suffice to say, SWA replied within 16 minutes. I personally think their reply on Twitter was really good. Without knowing the full situation, they (aka Christi Day) did a nice job in replying by acknowledging the issue, apologizing, and offering to carry on the conversation privately (via DM).

From there it started to get ugly as Kevin Smith began to tweet like a madman – using profanity like crazy (but hey, that’s consistent for him. I personally don’t choose to use that approach, but that’s his decision, right?). Others jumped in and it started to take on a life of it’s own. Tweets and blog posts were flying. The major media companies were all over it.

The one issue I do have with how SWA handled this situation is that they may have jumped the gun a bit with their initial blog post. It seems as though they may not have gotten all of their facts straight. So, what do we learn from all of this?

7 Takeaways, Lessons Learned, Etc

  1. Social Media is alive and well.
  2. People tend to use social media to either sing praises (We love you!) or complain (I was wronged. I hate you!).
  3. While it is important to reply promptly, be sure to have all of your facts straight.
  4. Remember that people will be quick to form their own opinions, take sides, and are not afraid to voice their thoughts publicly.
  5. Twitter is not always the answer to solve issues like this. Often it takes real humans.
  6. Sometimes it makes sense to “take it private” (as outlined by Amber Naslund).
  7. Responding to customer service via social media channels is not really that different then how it “used to be done.”

That’s … all I’ve got … for now. What do you all think?

Image Credit: Twitpic

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

10 comments
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Christopher S. Penn
Christopher S. Penn

Reading the blog posts and such by Kevin and Southwest, I think an important point needs to be made that corporate PR and legal, while they should be involved, should NOT dictate the response of the corporation without someone doing a common sense check. Someone at Southwest in the chain of command should have looked at the escalating chain of events and said, enough is enough - whether we're right or wrong about Kevin Smith being fat, do whatever it takes within reason to just make this whole thing go away. Guy wants us to say he's not too fat to fly? Fine. Post it on the blog in 72 point type that he's not too fat to fly and we f'ed up.

EricUngs
EricUngs

DJ - Nice takeaways! I think your 6th takeaway is important to understand. When to address it privately or publicly? I think negative issues such as this needs to be addressed privately through a DM or email. With that said, I agree with Amber in her post, it still needs to be addressed briefly in the public to let others know it's being handled. Then handling it privately with more concise tactics. 9 out of 10 times the 'Silent Bob', if handled the right way by SWA, will publicly announce the apologetic and sympathy SWA showed. But apparently Silent Bob wasn't real pleased with the private conversations.

Thanks.@EricUngs

Skip Fidura
Skip Fidura

DJ, I think your point that "sometimes it takes a human" is spot on. Imagine if Christi Day had the direct number for the customer service supervisor at the airport - somebody senior enough to handle the situation without escalating it to someone more senior. If nothing else, having a face to face conversation would have delayed Kevin's avalanche of Tweets but it could have prevented it entirely.

Sid Prince
Sid Prince

Great post DJ. Love the observation "Not so different than we used to do it".

Good stuff.

Sid.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Chris - Excellent point about the "common sense check." As mentioned, I think @SouthwestAir (Christi Day) did a nice job responding publicly on Twitter. Short and to the point. What we don't *really* know is what happened between that first exchange and the initial SWA blog post (again, penned by Christi). I think she missed the boat on that post. Again - she didn't have all of the facts AND divulged some private information about Kevin Smith. So...

Less learned?

I hope.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Means a ton.

dj

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Eric - Thanks so much for stopping by and weighing in. I'd encourage you to watch the podcast. Certainly not safe for work (NSFW) but very insightful. Gave me an entirely new perspective on Kevin Smith. It's about an hour long...I'm 30 min in.

Thanks again for your comments.

dj

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Skip: I really like your point about having the direct number. I wonder how that would scale (I'll ask Christi on Twitter!). I mean, I can do that at Blue Sky Factory, but we are a 30+ person company. Is that realistic at SWA?

dj

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Thanks David/Sid! I truly believe that about social media. Bottom line is to think/react like humans, right?

dj

SidPrince
SidPrince

Exactly! Form letters/emails/messages suck and piss people off.

FWiW - online handle remains Sid until such time as I grow a pair and stop caring who knows I'm a Liberal Obama Apple CPanthers fanboy. Thanks for understanding.

Sid. (the other white meat)