Citizen Marketers

If you are reading this blog post, I think it's safe for me to assume that you are in some way, shape, or form - emerged in social media. Perhaps you enjoy reading blogs, or are a blogger yourself; maybe you tweet about your job or interesting books you read; or, maybe you love to share photos of your family on Facebook. Have you ever stopped to think though, about yourself as a consumer, about the potential impact your blog, tweet, or Facebook profile could have on a certain business?

....neither have I.

According to a great book I'm reading, Citizen Marketers,
"amateurs and professionals [can] comingle to assume new forms of ownership in the companies, brands, products, and people they closely follow"
As citizens, we have the ability to both positively and negatively influence the brands and businesses we associate with. For example, several years ago Fiona Apple fans were able to convince Sony to release an album they originally opted out of - read more about this instance here.

Like many people, I occasionally tweet about my frustration with AT&T or seek knowledge from bloggers about how to recycle old Dell printer cartridges. But, I never fully realized the impact a consumer could have on a business. Of course, I have heard stories of bloggers receiving free goodies after blogging about bad experiences with companies. I have even heard of the occasional written apology following an angry blog post, but I have never seen a real time instance of such an interaction between consumer and business unfold...until this weekend.

I logged into my Twitter account yesterday and saw this coming from Southwest Airlines Twitter account, @SouthwestAir

Naturally, I had to take a look at what this person was saying to get Southwest Airlines to apologetically reply several times. When I looked at his page, I discovered that Kevin Smith was not only a very unhappy SWA customer, but also a well-known individual in the film industry (worked on Dogma, Chasing Amy, Clerks, Jay & Silent Bob).

It seems as though Smith was already settled aboard the plane in his seat, when a SWA flight attendant informed him he was too large for the flight and the captain considered him a "safety risk." Smith was removed from the plane and given a $100 voucher. The voucher did not satisfy Smith and he began live-tweeting about the situation.

With 1,643,161 followers, Kevin Smith obviously reaches quite a few people. Because of his fame, it seemed like SWA probably had to do more than just apologize. Their tweets continued throughout the night.

As his followers began revealing their own complaints about SWA, the discussion on the airline company spread rapidly to tweeters and bloggers. Towards the end of the night, Kevin Smith decided to put the conversation on hold and continue it later in his own podcast.

Today, SWA tweeted a more formal apology to Kevin Smith.

His reaction to the apology:

It looks like Smith still has plenty to say to and about Southwest Airlines. I am curious to watch how this unfolds.

Individuals obviously can have quite an impact these days, thanks to social media. This means business and industry leaders really have to be on top of their social media presence. While the efforts of Southwest Airlines may not be enough for Kevin Smith, I think their quick response on Twitter shows a lot about their ability to interact in the fast-paced, constantly-changing social networking world.

On a final note, I think it is also important for us to explore the question of who really has a voice? Even the book Citizen Marketers notes that the people who are deeply engaged in social media, the ones who have a voice with the businesses and industry leaders, "don't often represent the average person, member, customer, or citizen." So, let us be reminded that there are still millions of people in the United States without internet access, no personal computer - people who are not privileged with the opportunity to be heard by large corporations.

Do you think Southwest Airlines would have made such a public response to Kevin Smith if he were just an ordinary citizen?


  1. Glad you noticed that one - it's an excellent example of a consumer threatening an organization's reputation and using social media as the platform to do so. He supposedly has a podcast coming out on Wednesday about the whole debacle: http://www.smodcast.com/

  2. Smodcast is up now, not Wednesday

  3. That's so strange that this happened with Southwest because I feel they tend to have the least complaints (or at least the least that make it to the media). Had Kevin Smith been a regular Joe I doubt they would have made such a big deal over it. Yes, they might have apologized but I doubt it would have created a twitter storm for the airline.