Social media is complicated for corporate America. All companies feel the need to be involved in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, but not all of them know exactly what to do. It has led to a lot of missteps, some real triumphs and a bunch of people getting hired whose only resume qualification was "has over 1,000 followers and more than 20,000 tweets!" For a time, corporations were actually researching the Klout scores of prospective job candidates. Yeah, it was that stupid.
This week provided another couple of lessons in why this new technology platform is so difficult for corporations to handle, and both involved airlines. But, of the two airlines in question, one fared much better than the other.
The first is the story of a Dutch teen girl who posted a "joke" tweet to American Airlines claiming to be an Islamic terrorist who was going to do "something really big" on June 1. Needless to say, this set off the same kind of alarms that joking about having a bomb in your suitcase would at the airport. San Francisco pass rusher Aldon Smith found this out the hard way recently.
American Airlines responded on Twitter that they take threats seriously and reported the incident to the FBI, who tracked the girl via her IP address. She and her mother surrendered to police in Rotterdam, but it has been reported that she and friends have claimed it was a "joke." Yes, a joke, because the smartest thing you can joke about online or anywhere else is terrorism and the best way to express that brilliant sense of humor is to send a threat posing as a terrorist to an airline. Hilarious.
Of course, in this case, American did the right thing and handled the problem accordingly. Who knows what kind of punishment will be handed down for what is apparently an online prank, but clearly no one screws around with this sort of thing and my guess is the girl will learn her lesson the hard way.
This was an example of how to do things. On the other side of the spectrum, I give you US Airways.
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The company apologized on Monday after it "inadvertently" sent a pornographic image out to their entire follower list. The original tweet that included the image was sent to the airline in an at-reply, and after it was flagged by its staff, it was accidentally attached to a response to a different customer requesting "free stuff." I guess it qualified as "free" and "stuff," but probably not what the person was looking for...exactly.
The extraordinarily NSFW image can be found at the link at the end of this paragraph via Jalopnik, but BEWARE that it is EXTREMELY graphic. You were warned.
For those who don't want to look, the photo is of a naked woman with a toy plane making a nose dive directly into her nether regions. Ahem.
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What occurred after she sent the tweet to US Airways seems fairly innocent. Some poor schmo at the company accidentally sent it out to another customer. The problem is that no one noticed for about 20 minutes, which is an eternity online. Celebrities who "accidentally" tweet out photos of themselves naked "allegedly" intended for a "boyfriend" find that picture remains online forever even if they took it off seconds later. Screen capture happens.
No word yet on what US Airways will do. They clearly need to tighten up their protocols when it comes to Twitter and pay closer attention to what they send out. I can sympathize with the employees in charge of social media accounts. Trying to maintain them and keep up a conversation with other users is not easy, especially while trying to balance it against corporate goals and strategy.
But, it should have been painfully obvious the moment the tweet left the desktop of whoever sent it that a photo of a toy plane crashing into a woman's vagina is not going to fly with customers or corporate.
The irony is that was a much more complicated scenario than the Dutch teen and her fake jihad tweet, yet the former was significantly funnier than the latter. I guess some comedy really does need an elaborate setup.