SouthWest Airlines, Kevin Smith & “FattyGate”February 17th, 2010 by Li Evans
I try not to be one to jump on band wagons, which is why I’ve totally left the whole Google Buzz nonsense alone. That said, when I think there are other points to be made about situations involving companies, consumers and social media, if its a band wagon that’s rolling by then I’ll gladly step on, even momentarily. Such is the case with SouthWest Airlines, Kevin Smith and what we’ll have now forever refer the situation to as “FattyGate”
Does Size Really Matter?
Does the size of your Twitter following account for anything (1.6 million +)? How about the fact that you not only tweet, you blog and you even have a podcast? Add on top, you’ve acquired a cult following, write screenplays, produce and direct movies and even act in a few of those movies. Let me introduce you to Kevin Smith, the guy even owns a comic book store in Red Bank, New Jersey. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I found out he was the guy behind the movie Dogma – any guy that has the kahunas to cast George Carlin as a Catholic Cardinal and Alanis Morrisette as God, has one heck of a sense of humor in my book. I follow this guy on Twitter, read his blog and occasionally listen to his podcast. I do have to say though, I refrained from seeing Jersey Girl, too much Ben Affleck for me.
Now does the size of your Twitter following (who you actually converse with), number of fans on Facebook, and comments on your blog posts account for much? How about the reposting of your videos, and links to stories about your great customer service encounters, and ranking #1 in the airline industry for a slew of ‘good things’? Let me introduce you to SouthWest Airlines. I’m a huge fan of them too, ever since the weekend my father died and how well they treated me, SouthWest Airlines won me over.
I state all this in this manner to show a few points:
- I like both of the parties involved
- Both parties involved are extremely social media savvy
- Both parties involved have very avid, emotionally attached fans.
This Isn’t About Kevin Smith Being Fat …. Or Is It?
Lets face it, we all know, heck even Kevin Smith knows, he’s no 136 lbs. Michael Jackson skinny. That’s really not the point here, and Kevin even points it out in his blog, that it isn’t about him being over weight. This is more about being consistent and truthful with your policies. Here Kevin Smith has a point.
He also has a point about how all of this was handled. If your policy states the arm rests come down, you don’t impinge on other people’s space and you aren’t in need of a seat belt extender, then, why pull the “people of size” policy card? Whether he originally purchased two seats or not, doesn’t matter at this point if you were claiming he is being pulled from the flight because of his size and but yet he’s passed all your ‘tests’ that he’s not in violation of that policy.
What would have been a little bit more wise on SouthWest’s part was to not put him on that flight because he had originally purchased the two seats, and they wanted to accommodate those two seats again. Kevin claims to buy the two seats so he can avoid talking to strangers, not for weight reasons. I’m sure SouthWest would have wanted to accommodate that wish because of who he is and understanding that maybe he just wants to be left alone at times, had they really thought this through.
What’s at the real root of the issue here is not the two blog posts blaming Kevin Smith for the incident (sorry SouthWest, but that’s how it comes off), but what they were admitting they were wrong with, the “person of size policy” and how it was handled. Immediately after Kevin Smith started tweeting and posting his picture that he got on the next flight and wasn’t thrown off because he was fat, his fans, and other SouthWest passengers who’d heard about the situation started posting other pictures. These were pictures that were showing passengers that looked twice the size of Kevin Smith, without the “two seat” rule and SouthWest not enforcing the policy. Inconsistencies can be a real problem for anyone in social media, and now SouthWest knows that from experience.
Admitting Fault is Good Public Relations, Asking For Help is Golden
When you admit you are wrong, truly wrong, people are willing to forgive you. When you ask for help in trying to correct what is wrong, people are even more willing to assist you. When you admit your wrong, but yet say in a very round about way, “we’re sorry, but it’s really your fault because you are fat“, by posting your policy at the bottom of the post that’s suppose to be an apology, that really isn’t a good way of winning over those people who you want forgiveness & help from.
Why SouthWest just doesn’t say, “you know what Kevin, you are right, we’re not consistent with our policies, this was our mistake we’d like your help to fix it,” is totally beyond me. The guy has likely bought hundreds of tickets by now on the airline – anyone could see that in their system (i.e. he was a loyal customer). They guy has a following. They guy knows how to use social media. Why not recognize this and work with it? If anything, SouthWest has consistently been social media savvy, not stupid, so this really makes me wonder who’s steering the boat over there?
Hiding your inconsistencies by trying to push blame elsewhere isn’t wise in social media. Any form of denial only brings a much larger magnifying glass into every thing else you are doing wrong and makes you the media’s next punching bag. It will even get you on the front page of CNN for all the wrong reasons.
Situations like these have to be seen as opportunities, especially if you are in or planning to be in social media, other wise they’ll eat you alive. Solving problems like these with the help of your audience or those who feel wronged, makes evangelists, rather than enemies… which would you rather have?
*Airline Passenger Photo Credit: ButtonMonkey
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