Always Tweet others as you wish to be Tweeted!

The internet has been awash with stories of big corporations suffering at the hands of Twitter recently, from inept employees embarrassing their companies to the news that neither the BBC or the Tory party trust their spokespeople enough to let them Tweet unsupervised. Today’s story of the day involves the film director Kevin Smith, who directed and starred in the Jay and Silent Bob series of films.

At the weekend, Smith was asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight as his size allegedly made him a “safety risk.” He then used his Twitter account to post a number of complaints about the airline, most of which I am too much of a lady to repeat!

It took six hours for Southwest to respond to him, but they did then apologise and let him know that their customer relations vice-president would be in touch. However it did little to console Smith, and from a PR point of view the damage had already been done when his 1.6m Twitter followers saw the original complaints.

However, at this point it sounds like Southwest had done whatever they could to salvage the situation, and they posted a blog to explain what happened that managed to paint everyone involved in a pretty good light. So far so good… but apparently that wasn’t the whole story. Clearly Kevin Smith wasn’t going to let that lie (something Southwest should surely have been aware of by this point!) and he retaliated with his own version of events.

At this juncture, it seems the whole thing has turned into a bit of a PR crisis. The story is all over the press, so far more than the original 1.6m people who saw it unfolding on Twitter are now aware of it. Southwest Airlines started the communication well, but it seems that they seriously underestimated Smith’s influence. Since both parties are providing very different versions of the story, it’s difficult to tell who’s in the right (if anyone) but it might have been a good idea for Southwest to just give Smith what he wanted (a full public explanation) to avoid the situation escalating further.

Let this be a lesson to you, PR people! Social media is immediate, unregulated and here to stay. You may not be able to prevent a negative story appearing, but it’s how you respond to it that matters. Anyone who doesn’t think social media is important to them is missing a trick, because if it’s important to your stakeholders, it will end up affecting you, for better or worse.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this – do you think Southwest Airlines handled the situation well, or could they have done more?

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