Remember Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger? He’s the US Airways pilot who landed a fully loaded jet in the Hudson River in January 2009 with only minor injuries to the 155 people on board. His skill and heroism brought him well-deserved fame, but the quick actions of smartphone-enabled witnesses brought his actions to light nearly in real time, as they posted photos to Twitter almost before the plane stopped moving. This event didn’t just catapult Capt. Sullenberger into the public eye. It also changed the perception of Twitter from a forum for narcissistic ramblings to a mainstream social media tool.Now the airlines have given us another social media star, Steven Slater. Mr. Slater is the JetBlue flight attendant who got into an altercation with a passenger as his flight approached the gate at JFK, then grabbed his bags, grabbed a beer and fled down the plane’s emergency chute. In addition to extensive coverage by local media in New York, Mr. Slater’s own Facebook page has more than 25,000 friends and growing at the rate of several thousand friends per hour. Other Facebook users have started their own pages about the incident, including one called “Free Steven Slater”. On Twitter, the event is reported to be the number one trending topic in New York and several other cities
Will Mr. Slater’s instant celebrity, which is owed in no small part to social media, make him, as some suggest, “an online folk hero”? That depends, I think, on whether Mr. Slater’s actions tap into something authentic about how we feel about employers, airlines or both. The urge to tell your boss to “take this job and shove it” is timeless, but people rarely act on the sentiment. (Although this resignation by storyboard is pretty classic). The combination of tighter security, increased baggage fees and, perhaps, fuller planes has led to either customer service failures on the part of the airlines or more abuse from passengers, depending on who is asked.
Perhaps, then, it is timely to remind businesses of every size how valuable social media can be as a customer service channel. With all the buzz that this event has created, there is no good reason for JetBlue, no stranger to social media, to have stayed largely quiet about it. Whether to reassure passengers about their safety (and the airline’s hiring standards) or even to laugh it off, JetBlue should be much more engaged with its customers.
The Zavee takeaway:
- Of course he shouldn’t have done it, but the getaway slide is pretty impressive.
- JetBlue is doing no favors to itself or its customers by yielding the social media (and conventional media) environment so completely to Mr. Slater.
- There is a difference between being a folk hero and a real one, even online, and most people know which is which.
Update (8/11/10): TechCrunch confirms that the “resignation by dry erase board” is a hoax.