Jousting on Social Media

Social media is the wrong place to joust with customers or clients. Think of it as an early warning system that should trigger a sensitive, personalized response offline.A recent story about a political race zeroed in on rabid social media exchanges between staffers in opposing campaigns. Most people ignore the exchanges as nothing more than inside political baseball. Cybernauts aren't so generous when brands joust with customers.

JetBlue made a bad situation worse when it quarreled on Twitter with a passenger who said she was barred from boarding a delayed flight. The would-be passenger says someone made an off-handed comment about a "fully stocked bar onboard," which the JetBlue pilot interpreted as an accusation that he was intoxicated.

Irritated, the pilot ordered all passengers off the plane while he underwent a precautionary sobriety test, which proved negative. Lisa Carter-Knight, the passenger ultimately prevented from the flight, said she didn't make the comment and was punished for tweeting about the episode. 

JetBlue later issued a statement that said, "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. 

Not surprisingly, the incident made the rounds of social media, with JetBlue in the role as bad guy. You could argue JetBlue handled the situation well. You also could argue it dropped the ball by keeping this customer off the plane and triggering a damaging chain of social media comments.

Quarreling with customers or clients in public or online is never a smart strategy. A better strategy for JetBlue would have been to talk in person with Carter-Knight and find a satisfactory solution, whether it was riding on the JetBlue flight or an alternate flight.

Unless there was more to the story than came out, Carter-Knight didn't seem to pose an in-flight risk. Her real threat was becoming a disgruntled customer with a Twitter feed.

Tweets afford the opportunity for companies and organizations to get an early heads up on customer concerns or observations. They aren't invitations for dust-ups.