How JetBlue crashed its social media brand

#JetBlue. It is a wonderful airline, but apparently while their planes are cleaner, high-tech, and friendlier than most, their social media and brand decision making at headquarters resemble the methods and thinking patterns of Dear Leader in North Korea. They killed their most important asset: their passenger’s reputation and free speech. #SocialMediaCrash?

When a JetBlue passenger Lisa Carter-Knight did what most customers in the digital age do: tweet or post something on their Facebook page, and complained about what transpired between the pilot and other passengers on a delayed JetBlue flight Tuesday night, guess what JetBlue did? They didn’t allow her to board the plane! Because of her tweets! Imagine that, because she tweeted! That is quite a safety hazard to the flying public!

In response, a JetBlue official stated to the media: “If we feel a customer is not complying with safety instructions, exhibits objectionable behavior, or causes conflict at the gate or on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane or will be denied boarding especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of accelerating in the air. In this instance, the customer received a refund and chose to fly on another carrier.”

What ensued was a social media frenzy of additional ‘trashing posts’ and a war of words between the passenger and JetBlue. About 1,300 tweets were shared about the experience using the term “JetBlue woman”. 

What did JetBlue do? They thought and acted the way dictatorial regimes that monitor their citizens’ every move. Instead, they should have turned this social media crash into an opportunity to show Tender, Love & Care to their disgruntled customer, as unruly as she might have been, allegedly. Right or wrong, JetBlue crashed its friendly brand and cost itself millions of dollars by behaving like a bully that doesn’t listen and then victimizes the passenger twice.

In the new digital age, where everyone has a smart phone, a credit card, and a camera, successful companies must operate on the following principles:

  1. Listen to your customers. Some might be crazy, but you are crazier if you think you can get away with insulting them or publicly shaming them online.
  2. In the digital age, there are no more ‘secrets’. If your customer service sucks, people will use social media like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to post it with full attribution or anonymously. No matter if they are wrong or right, ignoring it or pretending like it doesn’t exist- will tank your brand faster than any advertising or pr campaign.
  3. If you intend to apologize, be authentic. Don’t make a passive aggressive statement like JetBlue did that makes the other party look insane or inferior.
  4. Activate your common sense and realize that it’s not just about the individual complaining customer, it’s about a brand community that can easily become infected and spread in the speed of now to millions of influencers in the outer circles of your target market.

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Mr. Gal Borenstein is an expert and strategist in digital branding, marketing, social media, advertising, online reputation management and public relations matters. He is the founder and CEO of the Borenstein Group, a digital marketing communications firm in the Washington DC metropolitan area that serves clients locally and globally. 

He is the author of new business leadership book, ACTIVATE! How to Power Up Your Brand to Dominate Your Market, Crush Your Competition & Win in the Digital Age, available in premiere bookstores and on Amazon.

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