United Shows That Social Starts In Reality

As United goes going through the kabuki drama of ugly social media post, corporate apology, and the opining of marketing experts, it’s showing every brand a deeper truth:

All business is social now.

I know that might sound like announcing water is wet, but I’m not talking about the role social media played in revealing United’s recent clothing and overbooking policy snafus.

I wasn’t on either plane, but it sure seems like the passengers were treated like bystanders, at best. Social media turned them into witnesses.

Doesn’t any group of consumers gathered in a geophysical space constitute a community?

Maybe United’s error was failing to recognize that fact, and then communicating with them accordingly. Conversely, had it anticipated how its corporate policies would be understood or interpreted within such communities, would those practices remain unchanged?

Again, I wasn’t there, but I’ve flown enough to say with some confidence that I’ve never heard an airline explain its overbooking policy. Sure, people have been offered money (myself included), but never was I told that there was a point at which paying passengers could be randomly evicted from their seats…especially to make room for airline employees who needed a ride.

I wonder if United told the passengers on the flight what was going to happen before it happened? Did it give them the chance to change their minds and avoid being potentially inconvenienced by the lottery? If it explained the situation — truly taking responsibility for people understanding what was going on — would the doctor who threw a fit have appeared as sympathetic as he did otherwise?

More importantly, if the airline’s policy of bumping customers for employees might not pass muster to a planeload of tired travelers, maybe it’s a policy worth changing?

Ditto for the young girls who were found in violation of their employee-provided travel benefit because of what they were wearing. Did the other passengers know? It doesn’t seem like it from the tweets that followed. Would they have agreed with it and, if not, is it really such a smart policy?

One of the sad byproducts of our Information Age is that it’s dumb to assume that people collected in the same space possess the same awareness or understanding of, well, just about anything…

Read the entire essay at Linkedin