By Simon Jones
Airline bashing. Seems to be the enduring favorite among social media users. Twitter is full of it: “I hate X Airline because … they didn’t give me an upgrade / the flight was late / the flight was overbooked / the seat was uncomfortable / yadda yadda”. Sorry, but if you are using social media to have a good old bellyache then I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a damn.
If you really need to complain, then social media isn’t necessarily going to move the needle for you any more. Like the boy who cried wolf, the volume of complaining on Twitter has grown to the point where individual complaints are, in the main, invisible. As more and more people add their whiny voices to the millions already out there, each self-centered complaint is just a drop in the ocean. The airlines will laugh in your face at your foundless claims that you’re going to cause a mutiny, or affect their profits, or bring down their reputation. Because, let’s face it, the odds are heavily, heavily stacked that you’re not. It’s easy to use social media to bash brands but really, you should think twice.
Unless, of course, you do it with a bit of panache – for example, United Breaks Guitars. Almost three years on and the video has notched up 11.5 million views. Despite this, and with Dave Carroll now the self-styled “social media innovator”, the airline still hasn’t coughed up.
Granted, your private little moan might get “likes” from a few Facebook friends, and a couple of them may actually genuinely feel a twinge of sympathy for you as your tweet flashes past their consciousness in a couple of seconds, but was it really worth all that effort in hammering out your stream of vitriol? Are any of your friends likely to repost your bellyaching? Unless you’re already famous then the answer is nope, not if it’s self-centered and self-serving.
The same applies to boasting – “I’m so grateful to X Airline for upgrading me to a First Class seat and serving free Champagne yak yak yak …” Of course, were I sitting in seat 1A then I’d also be super-grateful for the upgrade but at the same time, I hope that my better judgement would empower me to keep this to myself. Do my friends and followers really need to know? Nah. Do they care? Less so. Do tweets and posts like that make me look even more selfish than ever? Again, unless you’re famous – or sitting next to someone who is – then the world does. not. care. an. iota.
As social media gets more crowded, so it is squeezing out the little guy. Your chances of going viral are minimal. The early days of Twitter, when an ordinary Joe could kick up a storm of controversy with a couple of venomous tweets are largely over. And even if you do manage to make it stick, a week or so on, do people remember the real reason why you were howling about mistreatment? Or do they have you down as a malcontent?
Back in the 1980s I started my career as a local newspaper hack, working for a weekly newspaper that was – and still is – fairly well respected as an authoritative voice about all things local. Almost every day, the editorial team would get a call from reception that a gentleman or lady was downstairs with a “scandal”, so we’d better send down an ace reporter to get the scoop. And invariably it was the same old story – someone with an axe to grind. Gripes like this almost never made the paper – the exception being that occasional week when we were really, really scratching around for content – and even then we’d try to pump up the story into a scandal that was in the public interest. Invariably, the beef didn’t really stand up to any digging around, for example asking the target of the complaint for their side of the story.
If you do have a wobbly lower lip and you’re tempted to badmouth a brand on social media, do yourself the favor of a sanity check first: Is what you say going to be in the public interest? In other words, why should innocent strangers care?
What this does not mean is that you have to keep a stiff upper lip and suffer in silence: in fact, quite the opposite. If you genuinely have a gripe to make public, do it – but also consider the old-fashioned methods before doing your dirty washing in public. You might not want to hear it but customer service is your first stop. Last time I missed a flight connection, customer service dealt with it in a few minutes – no tweets necessary – although at the time I commented on how airlines love to manipulate the truth when it comes to delays, and the reasons for them.
How to get it right
So next time you’re not getting the right service, tweeting isn’t necessarily the answer. We need more, people. We need rich content. Use that video recorder function on your phone to document the full horror of how you’re being bilked and post it on YouTube – but make it relevant, and, if possible, make it funny, as the going-viral video of a drunken Canadian singing Bohemian Rhapsody in the back of a cop car demonstrates. Otherwise you’re simply a drop in the ocean – of crocodile tears.