The Internet and celebrities were almost made for each other. Whether you head out to TMZ to see who’s cheating on who, or head over to YouTube to watch the trailer for an upcoming movie you’re excited about, or if you’re heading over to CNN to see who Brad and Angelina adopted this week, at some point or another, the Internet has given you access to celebrities like you’ve never had before.
A recent public skirmish between Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines proves the inverse is also true: Celebrities now have more access to you than ever. Analyzing the situation, many businesses could learn a lesson on how to leverage social media to alter public perception.
Just to bring everyone up to speed on the situation quickly: On February 13th, Kevin Smith was removed from a flight on Southwest Airlines. The airline cites safety concerns and other issues. To the casual observer and to Smith himself, it basically came down to him being too heavy for the seat he was in.
When today’s sensationalized news shows get a hold on a story like that, it quickly becomes “Movie Director Too Fat to Fly!” and the feeding frenzy ensues.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, it’s made for an interesting skirmish held mostly via blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, and it is a fascinating case study. If you’d like to read more on the issue, Google is your friend. Southwest has issued statements and blog posts on the matter, and Smith has taken to his Twitter account, blogs, podcasts, and other avenues.
Smith has the luxury, being a celebrity, of having a built-in audience when something like this happens. His Twitter account alone boasts nearly 1.7 million followers, which is a staggering number. So when he speaks, there’s someone there to listen.
And speak he has, releasing tens of dozens of tweets, two audio podcasts, and a 21-part YouTube video series on the matter. Many folks are publicly claiming a boycott of the airline, and the airline itself has buckled with an apology.
Online news sources are reporting on Smith’s moves, and he’s coming off as the good guy in all of this. He’s effectively taken what was probably an incredibly embarrassing incident, controlled the spin to the best of his ability, and likely minimized the impact of it.
And at the heart of all of it, it seems to be a customer service issue. If Kevin Smith has provided a lesson for us as businesses, it’s that the disgruntled customers scream the loudest. Southwest may have had hundreds of people fly happily that day, but no one goes home and writes on their blog “I HAD A REALLY NICE FLIGHT ON SOUTHWEST AIRLINES!”
And if not carefully addressed, the screams of the disgruntled become what the public sees as the truth when they research you.
While social media is no replacement for actual quality customer service, being out there among your audience monitoring and participating in the conversation can help reduce the damage that’s happening. For every Kevin Smith, there’s a hundred Joe Smiths who have opinions on your products and services, and aren’t afraid to share them. Go to YouTube and search for any large company. You’ll likely find many of the top results are from disgruntled customers complaining about that company. If you’re not actively involved in social media, this conversation is taking place without you.