Somehow managing to crack technology, business and entertainment news, Kevin Smith went nuclear on Southwest Airlines this weekend. Smith, admittedly obese, was removed from a SWA flight after being seated. He knows his social media. TwitPic from the plane itself and a Twitter stream (NSFW) about the Smith-Southwest debacle. Smith is a celebrity with 1.6 million Twitter followers. After being removed from the flight, he went on a social media jihad. Dozens of tweets were broadcast to his followers. Just from Smith’s reach, figure that he had 30 million impressions. That is not the kind of earned media you want in your business.
But Southwest got into a slugfest, publishing two blogs on the subject, including one on Valentine’s Day called Not So Silent Bob. Apparently the marketing and communications team all took Valentine’s Day off because from United Breaks Guitars to RyanAir calling bloggers idiots, you would think the airlines have learned they take a major PR beatdown in social media when they cross celebrities. Hint: people like celebrities. Airlines? Not so much.
Airlines that have weight policies in a country 30% overweight and that charge $25 to check each bag? Most people really hate those. A company can’t beat a celebrity at this game. Strike three, airlines, cut it out. Yes, I know the safety issues involved. I’ m obese too, but like Smith I can put the armrests down and buckle my seatbelt. Heck, on Facebook doppleganger week, I used a mashup of Smith with my photo. We’re not twins, but we could’ve been brothers.
Unlike Smith, I don’t have millions of people cashing their paycheck and lining up to see my work. Smith looks like a populist hero especially having blogged twice himself (still NSFW). But that’s the hoi polloi. Let’s talk about the idiocy surrounding the TED Talks.
TED is a non-profit that brings folks together to push out ideas. The organization’s name is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design. The online content is often high quality, throught-provoking material. The conference runs about $6000 so TED’s website actually has an FAQ that asks “Is TED elitist?” If you have to post that question, you probably are.
Comedian Sarah Silverman got slammed by Wired editor and TED dude Chris Anderson. His now famous Tweet called Silverman’s talk “god-awful”. Then Anderson deleted his tweet, as if he thought that might end things. For those following Silverman (she has 463,000 Twitter followers, but she’s nowhere near as fat as Smith) on Twitter, she unleashed a second jihad.
Then Steve Case stepped in for some reason and actually told the comedian and speaker she wasn’t very funny. Now I first met Steve Case 20 years ago. I wouldn’t call him a friend, but I’ve watched him eviscerate people with a look. Silverman nailed him with a crack about AOL, reminding him to be nice to the last person on Earth with an AOL account. Then they started sparring.
Here’s a hint. If you run a company and you’ve ticked off a celebrity, don’t engage. There are a number of PR and crisis communications firms who can help you. From this perspective, the celebrities being right or wrong is irrelevant. They won. Businesses and businesspeople lost. I don’t see that model shifting anytime soon. What do you think? Besides having a debate on obesity, profanity or any of the symptoms, should the businesses have gone after Smith or Silverman?