This is an old story, but it’s such a great case history and article. Since I’m a new Saucy Horse, I’d like to share my favourite stories, case histories and writers with you. We’ve touched on this subject here before.
When things are going right on your Social Media Feeds, it’s great. You’re interacting with your contacts, customers and  potential customers; everyone is happy and life is good.
Then something like this could happen.

Somewhere, far from your PC and your Social Media Policy, a circumstance over which you have no control has the potential to cause serious damage to your company’s reputation.  Kevin Smith is a serious “influencer” as a successful and popular film director with nearly two million followers.
How Southwest handled this is detailed in this excellent article by Cord Silverstein of Marketing Hipster.

This began a back and forth Twitter throw down that Southwest Airlines could not win.  When you are dealing with an influencer who has the backing of his people, right or wrong, the people are going to have their say against the big bad corporation. This is where Southwest’s social media strategy truly took flight.
They did the following:

  • They responded to each individual who tweeted to @SouthwestAir about the situation.  No matter how mean the tweet was, they responded.  They apologized that Mr. Smith had to go through what he did and explained their company policy.
  • They posted a blog post once again apologizing, but also explained the airlines position.  When their blog went down because of all the traffic they were receiving, they moved their blog post to another Web site so people could read it.
  • If you check out the comments on the blog post, you will see users who left comments with curses and writing some not so nice things about Southwest.  Did they remove these comments or take the easy route and just turn the comments off, no. (Note: the Web site is still real slow because of all the traffic they are getting.  You might not be able to get to this page.)
  • They had a VP from Southwest reach out and speak to Kevin Smith on the phone.

Southwest were adept in their handling of this. They quickly realised that the damage done to Kevin Smith wasn’t immediately fixable; however the damage to their reputation was. They apologised to Mr Smith and then responded to every tweet; and there is the genius. These people were not connected to the incident so Southwest could have legitimately ignored them; Southwest didn’t. However rant-y and rave-y they were, they were included in the discussion.
These bullet points from Cord Silverstein have stuck with me ever since I read the article at the time.

  • In social media, you cannot control the conversation.  Don’t even try.  Your goal is to listen, understand, engage and potentially influence.
  • You are never going to make everyone happy or solve everyone’s problem.  Using this case study as an example, Kevin Smith is not going to be a fan of Southwest Airlines no matter what they say now.  But Southwest understands that they are fighting for the hearts and minds of the thousands possibly millions of other people who are witnessing and discussing this incident online.
  • Finally, half the battle is just showing up.  Southwest knew they could not win this argument.  They knew they were going to take their lumps, but they understood that not engaging in these conversations would be shortsighted and deliver far worse results.

Social Media can go wrong; anything from tweeting from the wrong account to misusing hashtags and all points in between. How we deal with it is what counts.
Making sure that there is a strong Social Media Strategy in place is key.  If you outsource make sure that all sides know how to react in worst-case scenarios. Make sure that everyone who has access to your Social Media Accounts is fully trained; they are the public face of your company. Foster a community.
And never, ever, throw Kevin Smith of a plane.