Monday, February 15, 2010

The Power of Social Media (aka..Kevin Smith takes down Southwest Airlines)

This past weekend I was waiting for my friend Andy to join me for dinner before we went to see The Wolfman. While normally a review of the movie would have followed (Quick review: Lot's of fun, lots of blood, some decent scares. Anthony Hopkins rips off his shirt and a wolfie smackdown ensues. Nice to see real wolfmen that aren't all angst ridden for an emo girl), something else has taken precident. You see, as I sat there waiting I was checking our Twitter feed and seeing what everyone else was up to that night. At that same time just a couple of hours away in Oakland director Kevin Smith was having a different experience. He was supposed to be flying back to Burbank on Southwest Airlines when he was asked to depart the plane right before take off. While not telling him directly why they were having him depart, in double speak they let him know that it was because they thought he was too fat. This even though he can fit in one seat with the arm rests down and seat belt buckled. According their official statement issued today:

First and foremost, to Mr. Smith; we would like to echo our Tweets and again offer our heartfelt apologies to you. We are sincerely sorry for your travel experience on Southwest Airlines.

The problem with this though is that it was issued this afternoon. This afternoon kids. But in the time from Kevin's first tweet around 6:45 PM on Saturday, until him finally arriving home in L.A. a couple of hours later, the damage to SWA was already done. He had already told the story, shared his frustration and made sure that everyone knew what had happened. He knows the power of social media and used it. Within a couple of hours hundreds, if not thousands, of people were on Kevin's side and sharing their similar stories with him and calling for a boycott.

This isn't the first time that they've been in the press for asking people to leave a flight. In September of 2007 a girl was kicked off a flight because they thought she was dressed inappropriately. And now with this you have to wonder if they are just giving too much power to their employees. But up until now, they never thought that anyone would call them on it. Especially someone who has over a million people on Twitter following them. And that power in the hands of a smart person turned into a dangerous weapon of words.

The internet is a powerful weapon that he knows how to master, and he has done it brilliantly. Unfortunately, SWA didn't know this and is now trying the old school version of spin control in a world that can see through it. SWA's statement has a veiled apology, but tries to place blame in his lap. Again, they are too late with this. It doesn't help that they claim to have reached out to him by phone and he says that no such attempts were made.

Kevin has another tool/weapon on his side...the podcast (Smodcast). Upon arriving home he quickly took to recording an hour and half episode telling the full story, and sharing names. (If you haven't heard it yet, download it here. The language is very NSFW.) So by the time SWA addressed it today, everything had already been set in motion. According to Kevin's Twitter feed several news organizations have wanted to interview him today about this story, but he's holding out for Oprah. Although he did say that he would be more than happy to go on The Daily Show with SWA if they bring the same row of seats and he'll prove that he can fit in the seat. If he doesn't he'll donate $10k to a charity of their choice.

But there's more to this story than just what happened to him, and to the girl he sat next to on the flight he finally got on. This shows that many companies do not understand the power of social media. While many companies have started their own Twitter and Facebook page, they have done it because they've been told they need to. For them it's a project that they throw some money at and expect a huge return from. This is because they bring in "Social Media Experts" and pay them a ton to tell them to start these pages because it's the future. Yet many of these "Experts" have few followers on their own pages. Most of them fail to see that it's more than the future. It's the present. Social media is the new word of mouth. Just as Kevin showed that an independent movie about store clerks can make careers, he's now shown that sending a message from your phone can bring a huge company to it's knees.

What say you?

POPped in the air by Jungle Jesse


  1. I already hated going on their airline, now I know I'm never going again.

  2. I really hope that they go on The Daily Show. I can't wait to hear what John has to say.