Will JetBlue’s Social Media Efforts Be Redeemed?

Posted on August 29, 2010


In case you missed it (a couple of weeks ago), JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, accomplished his dream when he slid down the emergency airplane chute and into the national spotlight at New York City’s JFK International Airport.

Fed up with rude passengers, Slater got onto the public intercom of Flight 1052 to vent after a passenger stood to fetch his luggage too soon on the full plane from Pittsburgh. He then pulled the chute’s lever, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart, and made his dramatic exit. Slater ran toward the employee parking lot, drove off in his Jeep, and was later arrested a few miles from the airport in his Queens home.

According to The New York Times, Slater was charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. He now is suspended from the airline until further investigation.

Slater since has become a bit of a social phenomenon. An msnbc.com poll initially had half of the 91,759 voters deeming Slater a hero, while only 10 percent said he was an “idiot.” However, 30 percent dubbed him “just plain crazy,” and 10 percent indicated they didn’t know what to make of the incident.

He also became the top trending topic nationwide on Twitter and has been hailed as a hero on Facebook. Support has cropped up in the digital space with fan pages like “Free Steven Slater” (approaching 30,000 fans), a Steven Slater PayPal fund, and of course, the “Can Steven Slater Get More Fans Than Justin Bieber?” page.

As the Slater brand takes off, where is JetBlue?

A visit to JetBlue’s Facebook page deems the incident nearly nonexistent, save for a small discussion that cropped up only 18 hours ago entitled “Passenger’s Behavior.” It’s likely most of the comments related to the incident have been deleted. It may behoove JetBlue to take note of these comments in which customers continue to sing the airline’s praises, offer support for Slater given his emotional stress of caring for his dying mother, and encourage the brand to step up and be a leader in implementing passenger codes of conduct.

Only three tweets appeared since the incident, two of which were blunt responses to a CNN reporter along the lines of, “We will not comment further on ongoing investigations.”

Although JetBlue’s PR hands are tied, how the airline responds in the coming days is critical, especially given its favorable social presence. In an initial statement, JetBlue confirmed the chute had been deployed and “at no time was the security or safety of our [100] customers or crew members at risk,” writes MediaPost.

Both head marketer Marty St. George (@mattysg) and newly appointed lead marketing agency, Mullen, headed by Edward Boches (@edwardboches), remained mum. Despite the legal challenges, it might benefit JetBlue to respond to postings as the investigation continues by reaffirming their mission and ensuring the protection and safety of passengers.

“One of the difficulties they are facing is they have to reconcile the contradiction between the public’s expectations that they are going to get the full story from JetBlue immediately, especially based on JetBlue’s history,” said Jonathan Bellinger, VP-social media strategy at Omnicom Group’s Ketchum.

JetBlue recently began to open up with its usual charm in a blog post, which confirms the reason they’re not commenting is that JetBlue respects “the privacy of the individual. People can speak on their own behalf; [JetBlue] won’t do it for them.”

Slater likely will bring positive attention to a brand that has already garnered social media respect and success.

According to Steve Rubel, senior VP-director of Insights at Edelman Digital, “JetBlue has done a good job of building a tremendous amount of relationship capital with the online community by embracing new digital platforms and communicating with people through them so they might not have to answer as many questions about the details of this incident. When a company puts itself out there as a company adept and active in social media, it gains social capital that it can cash in later on in a crisis or legal situation.”

Time will tell whether JetBlue bites the social media dust or cashes in its capital to continue to be a darling.